Stephen Baxter Guest Blogs on Writing THE LONG EARTH with Terry Pratchett

The Long Earth: A Neat Idea

Terry Pratchett came up with the idea that was the seed of our Long Earth project as long ago as the early 1980s. This was before we even met.

Terry describes a chance sighting of a man trying to lead a horse through the door into a pub …! From that vision came the basic notion of a gateway into another world, somehow contained inside the pub – a world presumably with space for the horse to run around in. Terry developed the idea further into the basic scheme of the first of our books. Our world is one of a whole set of parallel worlds, which are like Earth but empty of humans, and all you have to do is step into the world next door and help yourself to land, resources, whatever. Soon the neighbouring worlds are being colonised, and expeditions are probing the further reaches of the many Earths …

Terry had written a couple of hard-sf novels already. But as Discworld took off, Terry parked this latest idea in the trunk, and concentrated on fantasy.

Over the next couple of decades we got to know each other, as authors do, our paths crossing at cons, publishers’ events and the like. Terry always remained a reader of hard sf, and in particular of my books. Then, a couple of years back, we were chatting at a dinner party and Terry described how he’d come across his fragmentary sketches while sorting through old material for a short fiction collection. And it struck him as a good idea. As we kicked it around that evening (until we got thrown out in the small hours by our long-suffering hostess) it struck me as a good idea too.

Often, the best sf ideas are those you can express simply, in a few words, but with manifold consequences. In the case of the Long Earth, given the basic notion of the easy-access parallel worlds, you can develop stories from the personal (what kid wouldn’t go exploring?) to the economic (what impact would all those free resources have on our straining economy?) to the political (what about terrorists popping back and forth between the worlds? how do nations survive when their populations are free to wander off?) and the mind-blowing scientific (what kind of quantum / relativistic magic produced the multiple Earths in the first place?). At the heart of it however is an old, fundamental dream of an unbounded frontier, and a basic question of what becomes of human society, and indeed humanity, given unbounded resources … Despite the years Terry has spent in the desolate wilderness of fantasy writing, I’ve found he thinks about this material as a good hard-sf writer should. He frets, for instance, about how currencies are going to work, across the multiple worlds.

The resulting book is half mine but the basic idea is all Terry’s, and I feel I can big up that idea without being immodest. How neat an idea is it? Bigger-than-a-single-volume neat, that’s for sure; as Book 1 hits the stores, we’re already working on Book 2 … Watch this space.

The Long Earth goes on sale Tuesday, June 19th. Click here to pre-order a copy.

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