"For What Purpose?"
A science fiction series co-written by Terry Pratchett
and Stephen Baxter
. After the schematics for an easy-to-construct device called a Stepper, a key component of which being a potato, are leaked onto the internet, most of humanity gains the ability to "step" to parallel Earths. The issue being, nobody knew that was what a Stepper did that first day. "Step Day" involved a large number of teens vanishing into the next Earth in the line, many injuring themselves.
In Madison, Wisconsin, one boy named Joshua Valiente Steps along with the others, but unlike the rest does not experience nausea or disorientation. He gathers the other teens and helps them back to their Earth. On the same day, a single police officer also learns how to Step and becomes a sort of police liaison for Stepping-related crimes.
Skip forward a decade or so, and society has been rocked by the new ability to Step. There is now no limit to space or resources, and so the global economy, no longer able to base itself on the scarcity value of commodities like gold and food, is smashed. Colonization of "The Long Earth
" is subsidized by many governments under an attempted "Aegis Law," but no one buys the idea that governments have control over the Long Earth equivalents of themselves. As governments crumble and become useless, rules and patterns emerge:
- The new economy is loose and favor-based, rather than using hard money between worlds.
- Ferrous metals can't be brought between Earths in solid form, but chemical iron in blood will go.
- Most people suffer nausea when they Step using a Stepper Box, but some "Natural Steppers" like Joshua can Step faster, without equipment or step-sickness.
- Roughly a fifth of the population are "phobics" who cannot Step at all, and if someone brings them across worlds they get more violently ill than others, possibly to the point of death.
- You can't Step from world to world if you would be Stepping into a solid.
- Aside from the 'home' Earth, none of the other worlds in the Long Earth appear to have any sign of Homo sapiens whatsoever.
The Black Corporation, co-owned by a man named Black who does not appear and an advanced AI who may be a reincarnated Tibetan repairman named Lobsang lead the research into the Long Earth. Impossibly advanced and ahead of the game, Lobsang contacts Joshua about the farthest exploration into the "New Frontier" of The Long Earth ever made.
And behind it all, where only Joshua, born alone on another world when his mother accidentally Stepped during childbirth, can hear it, is the Silence.
The first book, The Long Earth
was released in 2012. A sequel, entitled The Long War,
was released on June 20, 2013.
The series is based on a 1984 short story by Pratchett called The High Meggas
, which can be found as part of A Blink of the Screen
, a collection of Pratchett's shorter fiction. The original story concerns Larry Lynsey, a hermit who lives in one of the high meggas - that is, more than a million Earths lie between him and Earth Prime. A pair of Steppers interrupt his solitude, each claiming that the other killed an entire base full of people.
The Long Earth
contains the following tropes:
- All Trolls Are Different: Trolls in this setting are peaceful, ape-like creatures who only use violence when provoked, can perfectly sing any song they hear, use songs to communicate with one another and can step.
- Alternate History: Each stepwise word is this on a geological and evolutionary scale.
- Ancient Astronauts: Lobsang speculates that a great deal of human mythology originated from misinterpreted encounters with trolls and elves.
- Bad Future While never directly mentioned, it's hinted that the world has suffered badly from overpopulation in the books near-future setting. Also the various 'Joker' Earths where there is no life at all. Or Earth.
- Celibate Hero: Monica Jansson is celibate by twenty-nine, after her marriage fails.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Rod Green, the Green family's phobic (non-Stepper) son who is forced to remain on the Datum Earth while his family goes to colonizes another Earth. He eventually becomes involved in a conspiracy to use a nuclear bomb to destroy Madison, Wisconsin.
- The Chosen One: Joshua. Although it is clear he is special from the beginning, in the end he turns out to be a "dipole" to First Person Singular, having felt her presence through millions of parallel worlds.
- Cool Airship: The Mark Twain.
- Death by Childbirth: Joshua's mother
- Downer Ending: Sort of. The novel ends with Lobsang entering diplomatic negotiations with First Person Singular with a possibly sinister outcome, the discussion of the possibility of a conspiracy/experiment behind Happy Landings and, finally, Madison being nuked by terrorists.
- Eldritch Abomination: First Person Singular, a sentient biosphere intent on expanding to every Earth, consuming everything living on those Earths. She doesn't mean any harm though.
- Joshua is more troubled by Happy Landings, the cheerful and utopian colony to which natural steppers have drifted for millenia.
- The Fair Folk: Elves in this setting are said to be the inspiration for these portrayals of elves.
- Fantastic Racism: The leader of Humanity First claims steppers aren't really human.
- Have I Mentioned I am Gay?: Jansson's boss can't resist bringing this up on her behalf. Possibly justified in that she's a Celibate Hero following her failed (gay) marriage and doesn't talk about her personal life at all, to the extent that she even has one. Sort of flies in the face of The Law of Conservation of Detail, all the same.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lobsang is incredibly arrogant, but he does consider Joshua to be his friend.
- Sally. She has an almost-insufferably proprietary attitude toward stepping, resenting that anyone else has access to the Long Earth. She also looks down on everyone else for not being natural steppers. She is often outright insulting, especially in the sequel when she insults Joshua's wife Helen to his face. She still has a soft spot for trolls, though.
- Lesbian Cop: Detective Jansson is mentioned to be lesbian several times, usually by her superior officer. It is treated in a very offhanded manner and does not relate to the plot much otherwise.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Lobsang's assertion that he is a reincarnated human. He claims very sincerely to believe that he is truly the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman, and demonstrated by discussing what should be private details with his previous incarnation's old friends. The "gel" that makes up most of his computing power is sufficiently brain-like that he believes it could store a human soul. But as of The Long War he's shown a somewhat worrisome ability to get into any automated system sufficient that he may have found and raided somebody's computer or other records to get the information he needed to imitate the fortuitously-deceased previous Lobsang, before coming out with this gambit.
- Muggle Power: The Humanity First group, made up of non-steppers who hate the Long Earth, for reasons from resenting the government support given to colonists to being left behind by stepping families.
- Not Good with People: Joshua is more at home with the uninhabited parallel Earths than on the Datum. Lobsang refers to it as Daniel Boone syndrome. This is because he spent the first minute of his life as the only person on an alternate Earth, and therefore feels a psychic pressure from other people that the rest of us are used to. That said, he's not happy if he can't talk to humans every now and then.
- Our Elves Are Better: Long Earth elves don't quite fit the usual mold: they are semihuman missing link creatures, have violent tempers, cannot communicate with humans and are predators who use stepping to ambush their prey.
- The Long War introduces the kobold subspecies, which can communicate with humans. They barter information for various human things (the example we see likes human music), and tend towards a sort-of hate/love relationship with humanity. They also aren't all that well known.
- Our Presidents Are Different: The US President, shortly after Step Day, is mentioned in passing to be a woman. She's also President Target to some extent.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Jansson
- And in the second book, Captain Maggie Kauffman and Admiral Davidson.
- Straight Gay: Jansson's sexuality is only mentioned twice. By the same person. For no apparent reason.
- Becomes a minor plot point in the sequel, when Jansson is romantically pursued by a man who doesn't initially realise that she's gay. He takes the news of their incompatibility well and they end up enjoying a brief spell as Platonic Life Partners before she dies. Still not terribly relevant to the main plot, however.
- Suicide Attack: These are now a legitimate problem, as people can just step around security measures in the Datum. Fortunately, most people aren't good enough orienting themselves towards their targets be particularly effective. People also figure out pretty quickly that you can't get around security measures if you're underground in the Datum,and start holding important meetings in cellars and the like.
- A suicide attack also turns out to be Humanity First's plan to destroy Madison.
- The Greys: The elves inspired these legends too.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Lobsang, being a devout Buddhist, is a pacifist.
- Turing Test: It's mentioned that passing the Turing Test wasn't enough for advanced artificial intelligences to be recognised as deserving protection; Lobsang was the first to come up with the idea of declaring himself the reincarnation of a human who died at the exact moment he was switched on, thereby getting human rights.
- It's also mentioned that Lobsang passes Sally and Joshua's personal Turing tests through such human behaviours as choosing to dress as Indiana Jones when exploring an ancient monument, and deliberately pissing someone off to see how they react.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: "Step Day" occurs in 2015, three years after the first novel's publication date. The rest of The Long Earth takes place in the 2020s, and The Long War is set in the 2040s.
The Long War
contains the following tropes:
- Brain Uploading: Lobsang does this with Sister Agnes when she dies.
- He also arranges for 4900 Tibetan Buddhist monks to spend 49 days on 49 mountaintops in various iterations of Tibet chanting from the Tibetan Book of the Dead - as he puts it, to cover all his bases, though now he doesn't know which actually "worked" to produce the new Agnes since this was his first brain upload. It does a neat trick in continuing to obfuscate the question of whether he truly reincarnated or not, of course.
- Bury Your Gays: Jansson is strongly implied to have succumbed to her illness on the last page of the book.
- Determined Homesteader's Wife: Helen
- Emotionless Girl: Roberta
- Foreshadowing: Starting in the previous book, there are mentions of how Yellowstone is due to erupt soon. Then in this book, abnormal geological activity happens throughout the story until it winds up being Chekhov's Volcano.
- Ill Girl: Jansson is suffering from cancer as a result of the radiation she was exposed to while helping to evacuate Datum Madison after the bombing at the end of the first book.
- It should be noted that, at fifty-four, she is much older than most examples of this trope; however, it's largely played straight.
- Incompatible Orientation: Jansson and Wood.
- Left Hanging: as of the end of book 2, we still don't know:
- what happened with First Person Singular
- what's the deal with the idyllic but vaguely sinister Happy Landings
- where's Sally's dad "Willis Linsay"
- Mama Bear: Mary the troll. Helen.
- Memetic Mutation: In-universe, Mary the Troll's "I will not" hand signal.
- Petting Zoo People: The Beagles
- Ring of Power: Sally is annoyed that this is how the key to the Rectangle building appears to work.
- Shout-Out: In-universe: the humans choose the name "Ham" for the troll child they're going to send into space for an experiment.
- The airship Gold Dust has a crewman named Higgs. Doubles as a shout out to the LHC, as he's a bosun.
- Take a Third Option: when the Beagles are hunting Joshua, if he stays then they'll catch and kill him, but if he steps then the crossbow will kill him. Luckily, Li-Li and Snowy have another idea: bring back his severed hand as proof that they killed him, while actually letting him escape.
- Turtle Island: Second Person Singular
- What Does He See In Her?: Sally wonders why Joshua is married to Helen.