The Long Earth: 02/23/13
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the first book in a new science fiction (speculative fiction) that explores (quite literally) the multiverse — one Earth at a time.
In 2015, the plans for a stepper are posted to the internet. It's basically a box, some wires, a switch (don't forget that!) and a potato (a Portal 2 reference?). As people (mostly teenagers) build the steppers and hit the switch (if they have one, most don't), they blip out of this Earth and go one step either East or West to another (but unpopulated) Earth.
In trying to save the other kids from the orphanage who stepped with shoddily built steppers, Joshua (who built his to spec because that's what he does), learns that he prefers the near silence of these other Earths and more importantly, he's a natural stepper (no box needed).
Like the disaster books of the 1970s, this novel has an ensemble cast, though the main ones are an orphan and natural stepper, Joshua, a former Tibetan motorcycle repairman (now computer consciousness) — Lobsang, a Madison police officer, and the daughter of the man who invented the stepper.
Roughly two-thirds of the novel cover Joshua and Lobsang's journey west. The other third is divided up between the mechanics of stepping, the ramifications back on the Datum (original Earth), and some other accounts of people stepping (presented as blog entries, for example).
Joshua, in his late twenties, is hired to go in search of the end the Long Earth. He will be traveling with Lobsang in a carefully built airship set up record anything unusual that is found along the way. It also serves as a back-up drive (one of many) for Lobsang (just in case). Should something happen (which means something invariably will), Joshua is in charge of brining Lobsang (meaning the airship's datacenter) home to the Datum.
I listened to the book on audio CDs (ten discs), performed by Michael Fenton-Stevens. My favorite character (due in large part to Fenton-Stevens's work), was Lobsang. If I ever have a self-driven car — I'm naming it Lobsang. Realistically, I should name computer part Lobsang, and the vehicle the Mark Twain — but you get the idea.
While I can clearly say I enjoyed the book. And while I can easily recommend the book, I do have some quibbles with it. The first is the authors' choice of Madison Wisconsin (and other parts of the United States) for their setting. The problem is that these American characters were so clearly being strained through a British filter twice (one in the text, and again in the audio performance). Most of the time it didn't matter but sometimes an American character would say something that no American would say ("disorientated" instead of "disoriented"). Or the narrator would mispronounce something and I'd be once again taken out of the moment ("fehma" instead of "f-ee-mah" for FEMA).
My second quibble is the big threat which comes down to what Joshua calls a "migraine monster." Frankly, with Terry Pratchett as one of the co-authors, I wasn't all that surprised that there was a huge ecosystem bearing creature lurking on the Long Earth. So while I was half expecting a giant terrapin / pachyderm combo, I got instead, something that brought to mind one of the water monsters from Pikmin 2 (though large enough to carry an elephant).
But it was still a fun read and I'm planning to revisit the Long Earth when The Long War is released later in 2013.