Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter - The Long Earth

Pratchett is one of the true giants of British storytelling, and he has written some genuinely brilliant, exciting and thought-provoking books. The Long Earth, alas, is not one of them. It grieves me to say this, as I even once helped to run his fan club before the Internet did away with the need for such things, but The Long Earth really ought to have been called The Really Long Earth In Which Nothing Much Happens To Some Dull People.

The Long Earth, the first in an "exciting new collaboration" (their bumpf, not mine) with epic sci-fi writer Stephen Baxter is a superb concept, which handled with Pratchett's wit could have been awesome. The fact that he forgot - in the main - to write with said wit is an enormous disappointment. I really, relly wanted to like it. But the old spark was not there.

Yes, there are a couple of Pterry woofers to delight the fans, and the first few chapters in which mankind is opened up to limitless parallel Earths through a Stepper device powered by a potato are wonderful. But all of a sudden this terrific story gives way to a lengthy quest in which nothing much happens for 300 pages.

You can count the main characters on the hand of a particularly inept bomb disposal technician, but you'd be hard-pushed to remember any of them. The female lead - whose name I have already forgotten - is Pratchett Generic Angry Yet Attractive Woman, so familiar to Discworld readers, and seemed to be angry at just about anything. Even Lobsang, a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as a supercomputer is a brilliant character lost to po-faced storytelling, with a climax that would have put William Shatner's Star Trek V to shame.

The only redeeming feature is the subplot revolving around a female police officer investigating extremist groups emerging from "non-steppers". Criminally underused, excised from the main book this little story would have made an interesting pamphlet on its own. A shame because the entire denouement revolved around this barely-mentioned concept, which was by far and away the most interesting part, deserving of a book of its own.

At best, it's a short story stretched to 350 pages, which promised much and delivered little. I am disappoint.

Hopefully Pratchett's "Dodger", an almost-but-not-quite Discworld crime story set in Victorian London looks like a return to form. Even your idols are entitled to an off day.

If I were still doing the Scaryduckworth-Lewis method of rating things for excellence (which I am not, and I apologise to fans of sexism for my change in direction), this would rate as "Sarah Palin frotting herself against a grizzly bear" - great for the fanboys, but little else.

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