1 Days Left to Support a Troper-Created Project : Personal Space (discuss)

Literature / The Long Earth

"To 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 their lands - especially as no matter how far they attempt to extend their authority, an entire planet is never more than a Step away. 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, sometimes to the point of death.
  • You can't Step from world to world if you would be Stepping into a solid.
  • Aside from the 'datum' 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 until book 3 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.

Baxter has stated that five books were commissioned in all, with the first drafts for the final two books being completed in collaboration with Pratchett around eighteen months before the latter's death (Baxter also confirms that Pratchett will remain the first credited author on his posthumous books in the series). Titles in the series are, in order:
  • The Long Earth (2012)
  • The Long War (2013)
  • The Long Mars (2014)
  • The Long Utopia (2015)
  • The Long Cosmos (upcoming, 2016)

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.


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     The Long Earth 

  • 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 world is this on a geological and evolutionary scale.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The elves. Having developed stepping strategies that give them a supreme advantage over any wild animals, rather than develop any kind of culture they just became as cruel as possible, killing unnecessarily in the knowledge that there are always more prey on other worlds. They show no sign of empathy whatsoever, even for their own kind.
  • 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.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Trolls and Elves, to a minor extent, and First Person Singular to a major extent. She doesn't know she's hurting anybody by absorbing them into herself, she likely doesn't even know what hurt is. It's just what she does.
  • Celibate Hero: Monica Jansson is celibate by twenty-nine, after her marriage fails.
    • Joshua doesn't seem to have much experience around the opposite sex either.
  • 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.
  • Cold Iron: In a sort of inversion, iron, for reasons unknown, can't be carried when stepping, making it less useful for most purposes than any other metal. There is mention of the idea that an iron cage could hold a stepper prisoner.
  • Cool Airship: The Mark Twain.
  • Death by Childbirth: Joshua's mother
  • Dimensional Traveler: Anyone with a stepper box can move to an alternate world at will, and natural steppers can do it without any device. Several hominid species have evolved that naturally have this ability.
  • 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.
  • Enforced Technology Levels: Two factors govern Stepping;
  1. No iron can be Stepped unless it's bound up in an organic molecule - blood of course, but even rust will go, as it's bound with oxygen and hydrogen. This leaves a lot of tools on Datum Earth.
  2. To Step an object, a Stepping person must carry it. Thus, no vehicles until Lobsang installs himself on an airship. This results in the somewhat humorous sight of people team-hefting logs only to team-Step them and lay them on a flatbed truck in Datum.
    • Taken together, Datum Earth is the only advanced civilization, and Low Earths are Steampunk at best. Beyond that, it's for all intents and purposes the Stone Age.
  • 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.
  • Everything in Australia is trying to kill you: The Long Australia is revealed to be exceeding violent. The first group of steppers vanished, leaving behind only a large splash of blood in their place.
  • 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.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Zig-Zagged. It takes decades for guns to proliferate through the Long Earth; as they tend to be made from iron and iron alloys, they must be built from local materials. A lot of the first Steppers are unpleasantly surprised by just how many modern tools and conveniences use iron. But by the time the first book begins in earnest, plastic guns are common and guns made from brass-like materials are being sold.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Apparently whatever particular mutation allowed the evolution of early hominids into humans only occurred on Datum Earth. Hominids in all other earths seem to have either evolved into human-like stepping species or gone extinct.
    • Jokers are Earths that, due to some chain reaction caused by the minor fluctuation that originally distinguished Earths from one another, are vastly different from other Earths, resulting in worlds that are covered in a vast ocean, are missing major landmasses, or have no moon. Or where, in one critical case, there is no Earth at all.
  • 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.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing to a villain in the story is First Person Singular, who has been causing unrest across the Long Earth without realizing it.
  • 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.
  • Nun Too Holy: Downplayed - the nuns at the nursing home that raised Joshua are a bunch of irreverent Cool Old Ladies, several of whom have mysterious or rebellious pasts. Sister Agnes is a Badass Biker who plays music too loud for her sisters' liking, and one of them may be hiding from the FBI.
  • Once More with Clarity: After being told who First Person Singular is at the end of the first chapter, the 47th chapter is just the introduction repeated, after we've actually seen what she is.
  • 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.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Happy Landings is a Close-Knit Community with no real problems. It's so apparently perfect that it gives Joshua the creeps.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Jansson
    • And in the second book, Captain Maggie Kauffman and Admiral Davidson.
  • Robbing the Dead: Joshua takes a ring off a corpse he finds in Rectangles, the only artifact he's able to safely encounter.
  • Separated by a Common Language: A minor example, but someone raised in Wisconsin saying soda instead of pop is rather conspicuous, at least to a natives of the Midwest. Also, the text is peppered with minor British style speech, such as saying "must do" instead of "must."
  • 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.
  • We All Live in America: Mild, downplayed version. While Pratchett and Baxter get the US right for the most part, little bits of narration and dialog use British construction over American (things like, "I must have done," instead of "I must have," or "Now she knew this..." instead of "Now that she knew this...").
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Precious metals and minerals such as gold and diamonds quickly lose their value once their supply becomes effecively unlimited, with only their usefulness defining their value. Some guys don't get this early on and step out to regions with known gold deposits in the hopes of making their fortune, only to be greeted by mocking crowds who realized what the real effect of vast untapped gold resources would be.
    • Conversely, iron (or rather, things made of it) becomes quite a valuable resource because it can't be stepped, therefore you have to go through the rigmarole of mining, refining, smelting and forging it on every Earth you step to.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The Mark Twain in the first book, and the twains in the second. Technically, the zeppelins are from Earth Datum, but it's a still a story about parallel universes and zeppelins.

     The Long War 

  • Battle Trophy: Beagles keep parts of respected enemies on their walls, preferably their heads. This is the fate of Joshua's hand.
  • Blood Knight: Due to the Beagles' reproductive cycle of population boom followed by destructive war, the entire Beagle race lives for war.
  • Brain Uploading: Lobsang does this with Sister Agnes, after her death.
    • 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.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The "Beagles", which are basically a race of Wolf Men, making it an incredibly obtuse and unintuitive name.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ring Joshua found in Rectangles.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Rectangles ring moves of its own accord in order to find and unlock an entrance to a hidden chamber. Sally reasons that there are a lot of technological ways to achieve this, but the device is clearly designed to seem magical to a primitive.
  • Determined Homesteader's Wife: Helen
  • Emotionless Girl: Roberta
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Thanks to the none-to-bright pioneers that first visited the Beagle homeworld.
  • 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.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The beagles are basically upright wolves with larger brains. Their society is built around lupine values, with cultural peculiarities such as matriarchy and frequent clan wars stemming from their high birth rates.
  • Johnny McCoolname: Finn MacCool (named for Irish folk hero Fionn MacCumhal).
  • 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?
    • Two of those are resolved in The Long Mars, but that has unresolved plot points of its own.
  • Mama Bear: Mary the Troll. Helen.
  • Matriarchy: Beagle society is universally ruled by females. This seems to be merely a quirk of their species.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: As with his own reincarnation, Lobsang applies this principle to Agnes' institution to an artificial body; as before, this is to occlude any legal issues.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-universe, Mary the Troll's "I will not" hand signal has been adopted by the U.S. colonies as a revolutionary slogan.
  • Modern Stasis: It's now the mid-21st century, yet, aside from the return of airship technology, Lobsang, and the Stepper boxes themselves, there seems to have been no technological change at all. In some areas, like space travel, there has actually been regression. This is justified and explored: Because humanity now has access to the literally infinite resources of the Long Earth, there is no more incentive to develop better technology. It is implied that this may be the reason why technological civilizations are so rare across the Long Earth: Only intelligent species that cannot step have any reason to advance beyond the hunter-gatherer stage.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Beagles. Partly because of their The Unpronounceable status and partly because of their disdain for humans.
  • Petting Zoo People: The Beagles are anthropomorphic wolves.
  • Planet of Hats: Averted. A major plot-point hangs on characters being reminded that each Earth is a full and unique planet as opposed to featuring one theme throughout.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Davidson and Captain Maggie Kauffman of the US Aegis expedition. Their level heads help keep the conflict between the Datum government and distant settlements from escalating.
  • Ring of Power: Sally is annoyed that this is how the key to the Rectangle building appears to work.
  • Scavenger World: The Beagles are highly intelligent, but lack opposable thumbs and have a self-destructive tendency, which limits their technological growth. As such, they get their most useful resources from kobolds, who trade them bits and pieces of humanity, but especially leftovers from the Rectangles civilization.
  • 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. (At least, this is the name he gives to Daniel. Helen doesn't believe it for a moment.)
  • 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.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human? : Cruelty to Trolls and other Long Earth natives has become a problem in recent years, most notably with Mary and her cub.

     The Long Mars 
  • Beware the Superman: The Next have nigh-superhuman intelligence, a knack for seeing through peoples' inner motivations, and (in some cases) the ability to talk you into almost anything. This is a source of some concern for humanity, especially once they get a glimpse of how that power can be abused.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Sally goes through a very calm, subdued version of this near the end.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: Joshua's investigation of the Next, the Lindsays' trip through the Long Mars, and the Neil Armstrong's trip through the Long Earth are all presented as equally important and rarely given more than a chapter before we move to one of the others.
  • Genocide Backfire: Joshua's final point in the debate on what to do with the Next. However dangerous they might potentially be, trying to exterminate them would only lead to the survivors going into hiding and plotting revenge.
  • Human Subspecies: The Next. Paul says that the definition of "species" is always a bit hazy, but they definitely do not see themselves as the same as regular humans.
  • Idiot Ball: Despite being hyper-intelligent, evolutionarily superior savants, the Next of Happy Landings seem surprised that the regular humans will not willingly give the Next control of the settlement. Doubly stupid is that there doesn't seem to be any social constructs that would prevent the Next from attaining leadership through merit.
    • Willis Lindsay, for all of his brilliance, has shown to be a very poor judge of character, and have both high-minded opinions of himself and low opinions of others that have almost gotten him killed. He not only gave humanity access to the Long Earth, but gives a race of sapient crustaceans access to the Long Mars, purely to further his own agenda. The latter proceeds to bite him in the ass as a "prince" of the crustaceans, humiliated by Willis during his explanation of how Stepper technology works, seeks to kill Willis and his friends by chasing them across the Long Mars, eventually destroying one of their two gliders, damaging the other, and killing Frank Wood.
      • Furthermore, his daughter Sally prepared for an occasion that the expedition she, Willis, and Frank are on gets threatened by stowing away crossbows adapted for use in the low Martian atmosphere and gravity, but Willis threw them away, claiming they don't need weapons, and that weapons are usually utilized by idiots. Willis fails to comprehend that, since both of his traveling companions thought the emergency weapons were a good idea, he just called them BOTH idiots.
  • Immortality Seeker: Douglas Black.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: As Mars only supports life in brief windows, the explorers find the ruins of civilization more often than active ones.
  • Make Way for the New Villains: The Next are built up as the sudden emerging threat, more dangerous than anything from the previous books, although their status as 'villains' is partially subverted in the end.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Willis giving the Martian whalers stepper technology leads to a disgraced Martian prince stalking the party across the many Marses in pursuit of revenge. Resulting in Frank's death.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Methane-spewing Martian land whales.
  • Sadistic Choice: Near the end, Willis has to choose between saving his daughter, Sally, or astronaut Frank Wood. He saves Sally, who later realizes that Willis made an entirely cold-blooded choice based on her ability to get him home through the soft places.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Elevator: The whole point of Willis Linsay's expedition across the Long Mars turns out to be finding one of these - based entirely on his conviction that it logically had to exist somewhere in the chain. He was right.
  • The Unfettered: Willis Linsay is determined to change the course of his species. Everything else is secondary.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him??: Played with. As the Martian prince attacks the Long Mars expedition, Sally asks her father Willis why they can't just kill him. Willis instead determines that they can simply outrun him. Sally then reveals that she packed crossbows modified for the Martian climate, but Willis threw out the crossbows, stating they didn't need weapons, and even claiming that weapons are usually used by idiots. Cue Willis being shot at by an organic missile and having his glider damaged.

     The Long Utopia 

  • Big Dumb Object: The planet-spanning "viaducts" built by the Assemblers to wrap and encircle New Springfield, which are revealed to be the components for a Dyson Motor that will speed up the rotation of New Springfield to destroy it.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Assemblers. While they look like strange human-sized beetles with odd humanoid faces, they also integrate metal haphazardly into their bodies, making it difficult to tell where the machinery ends and the actual organic parts begin. They do not possess organs, but instead a green, spongy material inside of their exoskeleton that doesn't seem to have individual components within. Finally, they possess manipulator appendages so fine that they can change the molecular composition of anything they come into contact with.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: While mostly speculation, it seems the Assemblers, while exhibiting individualistic traits and the capacity to play with other sapients, regard other sapients as threats to their capacity to expand and propagate, and therefore will go to extreme measures to eliminate them, such as destroy an entire planet simply because a small community of humans exists on it.
  • The Bus Came Back: Lobsang's original mobile platform that was left with First Person Singular returns after two books of absence.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Lobsang really wants to be, or at least act like, he's retired. But he ends up in the middle of events anyway. Because it's happening within a mile of where he settled down. And it's unintentional on Lobsang's part.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Joshua and Sally, through Nelson, discover that a group of natural steppers were gathered together by Prince Albert, the Royal Consort to Queen Victoria. Some of these natural steppers then help operations along the Underground Railroad due to their unique abilities.
  • First Contact Math: Attempted between a team of researchers and the alien Assemblers. They just ignore it and continue on with what they came there to do.
  • Naming Your Colony World: Earth West 1,217,756, aka "New Springfield", where much of the book takes place.
  • Recursive Creators: The Assemblers are theorized to be Von Neumann Machines, or a biomechanical variant, designed to spread themselves across other worlds. Due to special manipulator arms that have a fractal design reaching down to the molecular level, it is speculated that they can manipulate matter on an unprecedented scale, even creating more of themselves from virtually any substance.
  • Super Breeding Program: The flashback story reveals that a society of natural steppers set up an informal version generations ago. Sally and Joshua are among the results.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Sally freely admits that she has killed in self-defence, but refuses to ever do so in a premeditated fashion. She doesn't trust what she'd become if she started.

Alternative Title(s): The Long War