4 september 2013

Multiverses in “The Long Earth” (review)

78715737The Long Earth is the produce of the collaboration between Science Fiction writer Stephen Baxter and my favourite fantasy writer: Discworld-author Terry Pratchett. It was published in June 2012 and, recently, in 2013 it’s sequel The Long War was published.

The underlying social dilemma that is addressed in The Long Earth is that of overpopulation and scarcity on earth. The solution (or so it seems) is the discovery of the existence of multiple earths and the ability of humankind to travel back and forth between these earths (“stepping”). This idea of multiverses is not new, it has been a main topic in science fiction since the 1930’s. However, Baxter and Pratchett present us with their own, unique interpretation of the multiverse-theory:

  • First of all, homo sapiens appear only on ‘our’ earth (‘datum-earth”).  No Homo Sapiens can be found on any of the other parallel earths.
  • The closer the parallel earths are to datum earth, the more they are alike to it. However, some crucial events may have differed, leading to the discovery of i.e. ice-planets, dinosaurs planets, super volcano’s and more.
  • Third, the ability to travel between earths is not ‘exclusive to’ to a superhuman or scientific elite, but is made available to everyone. Some humans are apparently ‘natural steppers’, but most of those who aren’t, can travel between earths with a simple device, which can be made from some wood, wire and  a potato. Its blueprint goes viral on the internet and is therefore available to everyone. People leave everything behind to start a new life (colonies) on new earths. Since it is only possible to step to one earth at a time, these ‘pilgrims’ travel for months to get to the earth of their choice.
  • A fourth interesting aspect is that no ferrous metals can be brought to the ‘other earths’, which means no guns, no computers can be brought along by the interdimensional travelling colonists.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 8.30.46 PMAn interesting note is that some people can not ‘step’ to the other earths, not even with the stepping device. They are ‘left behind’, sometimes by their families who set out to start a new life on a new earth. Some of those left behind gather in groups to rally against ‘stepping’, resembling right-winged extremist  intolerant behaviour.

As many people leave “datum earth” (our earth) for more room, fresh air and adventure, datum earth become emptier and some cities fall into decline. In the long earth the writers give us an insight on their speculations on: what if humankind had an abundance of land and was freed from resource-constrains, and did not have to wage war for access on the resources? What would happen to our economic, political and social systems if parallel earths were accessible to us? This question challenges to reader to some critical thinking.

In short, Baxter and Pratchett have provided as with an original, fantastic idea on the multiverse theory, scarcity and human nature in general. They do this in a highly entertaining, witty and original manner. Comedy, scifi and spirituality meet in the great novel ‘The Long Earth’. According to Paul di Filippo: “It confers the mind-expanding feeling  that Victorian readers must have experienced when encountering Wells’s The Time Machine.”

Read: The Long Earth