3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable, but with a number of serious flaws,
This review is from: The Long Earth (Hardcover)
An enjoyable sci-fi/fantasy story set in the near future, where a series of parallel worlds, easily accessible to the majority of humanity, suddenly open up. The fact it is written by two authors isn't noticeable as the style seems consistent throughout. Fans of Terry Pratchett will find it very different from his usual writing style; there are some slight hints of it here, but if you're expecting something Discworld-esque you can think again. I haven't read anything by Stephen Baxter so I'm not sure how it would compare to his other works.
The start of the story is somewhat disjointed, and I found it hard to get into. I also found it rather annoying that the main storyline doesn't relate to the characters mentioned in the blurb. This may sound odd, but I found it made it harder for me to work out which characters I was supposed to pay closest attention to, particularly in the midst of such a host of them. It may be a relic of having two authors, but there were lots of side storylines that did little to add to the main story yet did not have enough page time to be meaningful in themselves. I felt like I wasted time getting interested in some characters/scenarios with real potential, only to find their storylines never went anywhere. I know this is the first of a planned series, and presumably some of these will feature more prominently in subsequent outings - but in that case, they should have saved them for those later novels.
Some aspects of the fantastical storyline are handled well and in a plausible way, but others seemed a bit ridiculous. The omniscient AI character of the main story was just a bit too capable to ring true, and the storyline about the middle class family who abandon their young child on Earth, presumably to never see him again, with apparently very little regret apart from a couple of references about how they felt a bit sad to be leaving him, was beyond the limit of my credibility. There seemed no way a real pair of parents would behave in this way, not at least in the context of the rest of their characterisation, and it was just a stupid clumsy way to set up the final 'twist'.
Having said that, once the main storyline gets going and the sideplots are mostly dispensed with, it becomes a much more compelling and enjoyable read. The main storyline finds a hook to interest the reader - the reason for a 'migration' of creatures that seem to be fleeing some unknown danger up ahead. As a result I found the second part quite gripping and overall enjoyed reading it. The closest thing to a protagonist - Joshua - is a likeable and interesting enough character to carry the story, and the various 'worlds' they encounter are imaginative and interesting enough to hold the reader's attention. I liked that it wasn't entirely predictable.
Overall, I enjoyed it enough to consider reading future offerings in the series, but I hope that they are more focussed and stop trying to introduce every conceivable storyline in one novel. I also think they need to pay a bit more attention to how they structure and pace their storylines, and how they manage to keep the reader convinced. It wasn't the 'multi-world' sci-fi element of the story that really bothered me, it was the behaviour of some of the characters that didn't ring true. Two such experienced and, in Pratchett's case at least, individually excellent authors, should really know how to construct a novel better than this. But perhaps a new joint venture should be treated with the same leniency as a first author, and in that case they didn't do too badly.