WMG for TheLongEarth
. Spoilers may be unmarked.
The bugs in the dead world are an invasion species - and a forshadowing
In the dead world Joshua find some dull bugs under a patch of dirt. He regards them as yet another depressing part of the dust world and moves on, but the existence of these bugs make no sense at all. Insects are highly complex organisms, and beetles didn't evolve until a lush and thriving biosphere was already in place. If the world was truly as dead as the characters think, then the bugs are as out of place as they are themselves - and there for the same reason.
Only sapient beings can Step, but they can carry animals with them without problems. This means that they can also carry microorganisms, insects, seeds and so on with them without noticing it. Humans are now moving plenty of invasion species with them from Datum and outwards, and Trolls and Elves have carried things with them for a long time. The bugs in the dead world came over in the fur of a troll, dropped off and since then they have made a living with what meager resources they can find.
This forshadows another being's ability to travel by hitchhiking on unaware steppers - First Person Singular. Joshua was swimming in direct physical contact with Her, and by the end of the first book they have carried her spores to every world between the Gap and Datum. This may become something of a problem.
Absence of mankind on other worlds
Given that there seem to be an infinity of earths, the absence of mankind on other worlds is a conundrum, if one rules out theistic guided evolution, then one assumption to make is that there are other worlds in which mankind exists but that these worlds are inaccesible from datum earth.
Given that massed humanity is described as having a the effect of psychic repulsion, this repulsive force increasing with the number of humans, what if two worlds where to have similar numbers of people? The effect would be like bring two similar poles of a magnet together and they would repulse each other. Since worlds next to each other are the most similar we can surmise that the two adjacent worlds with mankind in it would have a similar number of humanity inhabiting it and be strongly repulsive.
One can work on the analogy of a deck of cards used in the book. Placing a joker in the middle of a deck, one can imagine a deck laid out on an infinite floor, with cards laid to the east and west of it dissappearing into infinity, these are the worlds that datum eath has access to.
Now imagine a wall of cards, in addition to the cards to the east and west there are cards above and below going off to infinity, these are the worlds to the North and the South, the ones where mankind has evolved. As one moves away from datum eath the repulsive force from above and below will weaken and it may be possibe for a stepper to 'leap' up or down a stack, and by mving back come to a world inhabited by mankind other than datum earth
:And if a wall, why not a cube of cards with datum earth at the centre, and if a cube why not a hypercube of worlds?
The worlds are capable of splitting
The Long Earth was created by splitting of one world into two adjacent worlds that happens at certain rare moments. The Datum Earth's history split from the other worlds millions of years ago, but even if every world split only once in ten million years (on average), 4.5 billion years of Earth's existence would lead to 2^450 worlds. Splitting once every 100 million years would still be 2^45, roughly 35 billion worlds (and that doesn't even count universes split before Earth or solar system were formed).
In this case, the true structure of Long Earth would be circular with West and East eventually meeting, but not before extremely large values are reached. This would also explain why neighbouring worlds tend to be similar (they split comparatively recently) and why there are "bands" of similar worlds that differ from their neighbours (they are all descendants of single world altered by a significant event).
There will be a split event in the series; apart from messing with the numbering system a bit, it could result in duplicating towns and people, creating further legal problems.
- A possible problem with this theory are Joker worlds — are they just worlds that went through weird random event recently? Or worlds that went through it long ago and then they just never split again? (The insect world is mentioned to diverge because pterosaurs never evolved there, which would be at least 100 million years ago.) And what about the Gaps which were, so far, only one world thick? I still guess there is splitting, but it looks like it might not be governed by a simple random algorithm.
- It's possible that Jokers are simply worlds where split hasn't occured for a long time for random reasons. If they DID split further, they would stop being so obvious and they would become just another group of similar worlds. In other words, worlds where a rare event happened but which then split further become groups, while worlds that stop splitting but have no especially rare event look just like their neighbours and don't attract attention — only when both happens, you get a Joker.
The worlds split, but sapient beings are not duplicated.
It would explain the lack of humans on the other Earths.
- But it would introduce more problems. For example, if Datum Earth split after humans evolved, where are the human artifacts? Were they also eliminated? That comes with the problem that there is no sharp boundary between what is or is not an artifact. Is a road artifact? A grave? A midden? If this rule was in effect, there would probably have to be a sapient entity overseeing the splitting process.
Stepping North or South will become viable in later books.
Stepping to other Earths is usually indicated by directions East and West. In "The Long War", Joshua's friend Bill recounts a story of one of his friends who claimed to have "stumbled" and Stepped North, ending up on a world with no day, with a Galaxy in the sky overhead. Joshua doesn't believe him. More than likely, Stepping North and South will be a way to deal with First Person Singular.
- Possibly confirmed in The Long Mars: It is possible to Step on Mars, but the Long Mars does not run parallel to the Long Earth.
The Beanstalk Builders are linked to the civ on the planet the Earth-Moon orbits
The beanstalk builders were definitely intelligent enough to know that they were stuffed unless they did something. As the definitely had the capacity for space travel, maybe some of them left for their Earth, and learned how to step, which wouldn't be a disadvantage on Earth. That would also explain what happened to the team left on the Earth-Moon, as the beanstalk builders might have come across them and taken them in for examination.
- Or the Earth-Moon universe is the same one as the beanstalk universe — it's possible that Long Earth and Long Mars intersect in more than one place or even that they cover the same worlds, but with completely different numberings. This could be related to the "soft places"