Book Roulette: The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter [#498]
The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. Harper, June 19, 2012. 352 pp, $25.99
I was not looking forward to reading this book. I didn’t like it the first time I started it, and when I drew that number I thought, Of course. Leave it to my own spreadsheet to screw me from the start.
I think it helped that I had just read Ender’s Game. I was already in that science fiction frame of mind, so jumping into another future-set novel wasn’t as jarring on my imagination.
The idea behind The Long Earth is this: The Earth we now see is now just one of millions of Earth-like planets. Each one extends from this earth, Datum Earth, going east or west. Datum Earth is “Earth Zero,” the equator of them all. The other earths, labeled East 4, West 1,071, etc, are all similar to Datum Earth in that they are comprised and organized using the same materials in the same way. What make them different are small changes. One Earth is nearly all water (visions of Waterworld came to mind), others are abundant in natural food sources. People move between Earths by “stepping,” jumping from one to the other. Many times they use a “stepper,” a small contraption powered by a potato.
Joshua Valiente is unusual in that he can step without the aid of the stepper. He can move freely from one Earth to the next. With the help of a humanish android, Lobsang, he embarks on a journey as far West as he can, in order to study the environments of the Long Earth, the name of the entire series of Earths. Through his entire exploration, while continuously discovering new organisms and habitats, he relies on the guidance of the nuns who raised him. They help to ground him in a sense of “home,” so he doesn’t become overwhelmed in his journey.
What I found interesting about the story was the biblical ties. I’m not one to search for a hidden religious meaning in everything I read, but this one kind of jumped right out there and danced in front of me until I noticed it. Joshua Valiente is the hero of the story. Joshua, which translates to the Hebrew Yeshua, is said to be another name for Jesus. So we have Jesus the Valiant as the hero.
Joshua’s mother, who we only meet briefly in the first few chapters of the book, is named Maria Valiente. Also a natural stepper, she was living with the nuns until she went into labor. The pains scared her and she stepped to another world, had the baby, then stepped back briefly before returning for her child.
Joshua’s birth is said to be “miraculous,” because for the small moments before his mother returned for him, he was the only person in the entire universe.
Later, Joshua learns he is “chosen,” that he has a special connection with other unique individuals on other Earths, that he can empathize with them in the ways others can’t.
I’m not sure if Pratchett and Baxter intended for the parallels to be quite so glaring, but I noticed them. I don’t know if they influenced my opinion of the book one way or the other, however. It was an interesting comparison, and at the very least it could spark some discussion on the relationship between a higher power–namely the Christian story–and the science of evolution and the possibility that other life exists out in other “worlds” that we may not have discovered yet.