The two acclaimed writers Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter joined forces back amost a decade ago for a science fiction tale, the first of a series, based around the idea of parallel worlds. Parallel Earths to be exact, which can be ‘stepped’ to using a simple switching device based around a potato. People can use these devices or discover they have an innate ability to step ‘East’ or ‘West’ repeatedly through these parallel worlds that can be compared to a seemingly infinite run of Earths arranged like a pack of cards. Each Earth differs slightly from the last and some are inhabited by singing trolls with a shared memory based on their complex songs.
The main characters are a natural stepper called Joshua who lives in an orphanage run by nuns who is approached by an AI called Lobsang the reincarnation of a Buddhist motorcycle repairman, to help him explore the far off versions of Earth that no-one has been to (the High Meggas). They travel in an airship and eventually meet another natural stepper in the High Meggas called Sally discovering a threat to the multiple Earths as the story rolls on.
My biggest gripe about this book is with its structure. The reader is presented with disjointed chapters dealing with one minor character after another who then appear briefly in Joshua’s journey and it is only towards the end of the book with the reappearance of Sally that the story really takes on any momentum.
A lot of the characters are typical Pratchett fare like the Harley riding nun, Private Percy in the trenches of WWI and the singing trolls and seem somewhat out-of-place amongst the ‘proper’ sci-fi which I attribute to Baxter, and the book does sometimes feel like an admixture of styles and ideas. The ideas are interesting, but the story never seems to really get off the ground and there seems to be too much opinion regarding humankind’s corruption of the planet.
Back when I originally read this book I noted – “There is some suggestion that this is the first book of a series, so hopefully the next one be a little more joined up and less preachy…” Well, there were four sequels and I didn’t read any of them such was my disappointment with this first instalment. I have only rewritten this post to allow me to split out posts for a couple of other books I found a lot more interesting.