Looking Back At THE LONG EARTH Series - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At THE LONG EARTH Series

Chris Morley is a natural stepper.
Having ventured out into the wider universe over the course of our space themed weeks, time to start by bringing things back to Earth. But not Earth as we know it. Sir Terry Pratchett's ruminations on what life would be like minus the blight of shortages of resource of almost every kind inform much of the shape of the narrative of The Long Earth series, which he penned alongside the much more recognisably hard-science man Stephen Baxter.
Joshua Valiente, who has the natural ability to jump between parallel Earths, otherwise known as stepping, finds himself doing so as a passenger aboard an airship called the Mark Twain, with a curious travel companion called Lobsang.

Lobsang claims to have been reincarnated as an artificial intelligence, having previously been a Tibetan motorcycle repairman when he was considerably more flesh & blood! As a recognisable anchor for those who might know Pratchett only from the pages of his Discworld series, surely there can be no better-. For, like the Death who recurred there, Lobsang is curious as to the exact nature of the humankind & other human-like species of these brave new worlds and wants to walk among them, learning as he goes while they chart a course starting from Datum Earth, their equivalent of our own, and taking them to many a variant as a threat from millions of miles across the stars begins to make itself known.

A step into The Gap, a universe where the Earth they know no longer exists, makes it all too apparent that something must be done even as the first pioneers of sorts begin to leave and find a new home in the stars - the colony of Reboot (Earth West 101, 754 its exact co-ordinates from the parent planet). Some, the phobics, don't want to leave at all or in some cases simply can't. The hostility between the two sides of that particular divide is something of a recurring theme, as is the potential for pure exploitation opened up by the availability of easy access to all those who seek it. Presciently, there's also much to be gained from the American setting - how on Earth do you govern with communities springing up all over the place, & what to do when one threatens to at least match the good old US of A itself for power and tires of the wagging hand of nanny States? So runs the main thread of The Long War - book two.
What happens when what you thought was confined to Earth finds it has a Martian cousin of sorts? In a glorious collision between other abandoned or revisited projects by both authors, The Long Mars offers a little speculation. Baxter's own Manifold Trilogy is mined for the idea of alternate Moons, with Pratchett's ideas for Rainbow Mars (intended as a meeting of minds with Larry Niven but eventually released minus Sir Terry's input) fleshing it out.

In the third book in the series, the Red Planet is found to have diverse biological lifeforms calling several versions of it home, while others remain lifeless in common with the equivalent in our own solar system.
Bringing it all back home, in a sense, is The Long Utopia. Lobsang - or at least one of the many versions of him - sets up home on an unexplored alternate Earth whose very rotation is the subject of artificial influence. And in quite the turn of events the AI now has a wife in a similar state of synthetic existence to himself. Sister Agnes having in-life been one of the nuns at a children's home which took care of young Joshua.
The Long Cosmos, fittingly for the final book in the series, takes things wider before bringing everything to a close. The five book series was mapped out by Pratchett & Baxter at a dinner party in 2010 after they decided to collaborate on adapting an old project of Terry's, one which pre-dated even Discworld. The High Meggas was an unpublished short story which had been the intended starting point of a series cooked up while Pratchett waited for The Colour Of Magic to hit the bookshelves. As Baxter said of the discussion which served as a springboard into space...
“We were just talking about that and it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.”
The eventual roaring success of the first of Pratchett's forays into world-building became the reason we had to wait so, ahem, long, for what would eventually take shape as the Long Earth series. With demand for a follow-up to the first trip to a universe propped up by a giant spacefaring turtle increasing, The Light Fantastic took precedence.

It would be 2012 before the first novel in the series hit the shelves. An installment a year meant The Long Cosmos arrived 15 months after Pratchett's passing.
As Baxter told his local paper, the Liverpool Echo, after his friend & collaborator's passing...
“The whole thing was basically Terry’s idea. He’d started work on this project and short stories set in this world back in the ’80s but he got stuck with it. He wanted to have a very human, level way to access these worlds.

You don’t need to get there on a rocket ship, you can just walk in. At the same time, the vision for the end was going to be out on a galaxy somewhere.”
Pratchett was at least able to take an active part in the writing of the first three books of his resurrected pet project before taking Death's hand in March 2015. Baxter then finished things off and to his credit retained at least some of the overall humanitarian concerns of his late partner in the enterprise amidst the proper science. The theorising on the future of evolution, another one of Baxter's specialities, sat alongside a more or less free rein to chart encounters with trolls, lollipop-heads and intelligent beagles - kobolds - giving the explorers of their worlds something to think about.

At least for the first part of the overall narrative, alternate history, another Baxter specialism, gets shared billing with the future, making the premise all the more intriguing and understandably seized on by publishers who probably couldn't believe their luck, and a public who awarded The Long Earth the winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 for Science Fiction.

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