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Headscratchers / The Long Earth

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  • In The Long War, how can Finn MacCool have a Walkman? I can accept that maybe the ferrous oxide on the tapes can step, in the same way as steppers don't leave their haemoglobin behind. But surely if you stepped with a cassette player, vital things like the reading head and the insides of the headphones would be left behind?
    • I believe it was hinted that Finn was being given custom stuff as bribery, due to his obsessive and somewhat snobbish tastes.
  • In The Long War, the stated reason why the Trolls pack up and leave human-occupied worlds is because they are being abused, exploited, and killed by humanity. However, it’s mentioned that the Trolls have been hunted and harassed by Elves for millennia and even organize their packs to ward off this threat. Furthermore, the Trolls encounter plenty of good humans, (the people of Happy Landing, Captain Maggie, Joshua and Sally, etc) while there are apparently NO compassionate individuals in the Elven subspecies. Why are the Trolls more afraid of humanity (which is only occasionally cruel) than they are of Elves, who are universally and consistently violent?
    • In addition to the Elves, the world which the Trolls flee to is populated by the Beagles, a race so aggressive and warlike that they have regressed back into barbarism multiple times. Even the more compassionate Beagles like Snowy and Li-Li are firm believers that “Life is cheep”. If the Trolls wanted to escape the callousness and violence of humanity, why would they flee to a world full of a species even more callous and violent than we are?
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    • Several possibilities come to mind. First, humans are new and strange. They've been aware of the Beagles for a long time, possibly as long as Trolls have existed as such; presumably they understand them on some level. Second, humans are unpredictable. Some try to act troll-like, some hunt trolls for fun. Uncertainty is more dangerous than a predictable threat. And third, Beagles can't step. They know about stepping and know how to fight steppers, but they can't do it themselves. Humans can, in general, so they can be hard for trolls to avoid.
    • I don't think that the trolls are more afraid of humans than of elves. But they've learned how to deal with elves: just have lookouts and keep escape routes. Elves work in small bands and move randomly. Humans are a lot more complex, organized, and with technology, more powerful. Humans have the capacity to destroy whole worlds by accident. So the trolls have to adopt a more extreme method of avoiding the dangers humans present.

  • Where are other worlds with homo sapiens? You could say, "We just never happened to develop anywhere else" if the concept was a bit different, but that doesn't really make sense. We're told several times that worlds near each other have things in common and are more "connected" in history. For example, in the world bordering the Gap, the moon is very scarred and cratered, because the asteroid that destroyed the Gap world had a near-miss with the bordering world. So the worlds East One or West One should be populated by homo sapiens with different history and technology, or at least by homo erectus or Neanderthals. But no, they're as uninhabited as West Five and West 500. Why? The authorial reason is probably the Anthropic Principle - Baxter and Pratchett wanted to write a story about infinite horizons and a post-scarcity culture - but is there an in-universe reason?
    • Datum Earth is a Joker world.
    • It could be the reason there are no homo sapiens and similar species in nearby steps is because the sentient beings there learned to step early in their history, and left those worlds behind for the wider Long Earth. There could be an entire band of worlds where human ancestors achieved sentience, but upon learning to step, they blended into one another to become trolls and left their homeworlds bare.
    • This is partly addressed in The Long War. It seems that early humanoids learned to step, then sapiens settled down on the Datum and lost the ability, while the others spread out across the Long Earth. So it's not that intelligent hominids only arose once; rather, only one subspecies of advanced hominids happened to forgo their stepping ability and develop technological means of living.
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    • It seems also that the evolution of an intelligent species is a quite rare event on the Long Earth as a whole: only a scant few of those are encountered between the Datum and the High Meggers, even including the various stepping species (which could admittedly merge with one another). So it's quite possible that all the minute differences between Datum Earth and its closest stepwise neighbours, combined over the millenias, are enough to ensure that no species ever evolved to homo sapience (or became able to step and left). And, in terms of Long Earth probabilities, they would equate an asteroid missing Earth by a few thousands kilometres or hitting it.

  • Long Mars begins with, among other things, a description of an assassination attempt made on the pope, by a man who built a tower in the exact place of the papal balcony in the St Peter's basilica, and stepped over. Which means that, on the world one step away from Datum Earth, in the place of Rome, Europe's fourth biggest city, there was no settlement in which such activity caused suspicion. While the book repeated over and over how copies of Datum towns mushroomed several earths deep.
    • The key word there is "exact".
    • What of it? The big towns of Datum Earth are the first places to start extending sideways. There must be some settlement at Rome +1. Is it populated by complete idiots who didn't pay attention to someone making very, very detailed measurements to make sure his gantry is at some "exact" spot, which most inhabitants of Rome would at least connect with Vatican, if not the actual Papal balcony? And making some weird gantry to boot, which is technically expensive and serves no purpose in an outpost-like settlement?
    • Assuming there was a settlement in that exact spot (which is a probability but not necessarily a certainty; any Rome +1 settlement would start off significantly smaller than the original city, would probably centre around one of the metropolitan areas rather than the Vatican and might not have spread enough to reach the location of the Vatican at that point), he could have simply told them he was planning to build a church or some other place of worship there, given its religious significance as a location on the original Earth, and the tower he was building was just the first stage or where the spire was intended to go or something. The gantry could have been described to them as a pulpit, just as the Pope uses the papal balcony as a pulpit on special services and speeches. Bit of a big pulpit, granted, but since many of the other settlers in that area were also likely to be Catholics, they might have accepted the explanation that it was a slightly grandiose homage to the original building rather than immediately leap to the conclusion that he was planning an assassination attempt.
    • Plus, the papal balcony isn't that far off the ground. It's not like he'd need a skyscraper or anything massively resource-intensive to reach it; just some wooden scaffolding that's the precise height and roughly the size of a balcony (which is also itself not that big).
    • And, of course, the people in any settlement in Rome +1 might have sympathised with the motives of the man who tried to assassinate the pope. They presumably upped sticks and moved to a completely different universe rather than stay in the one where their city was the home of a major world religious leader for a reason, after all.

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