Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter have taken us far into the future in The Long Utopia. As humans evolve and even Artificial Intelligence (AI) is left behind, the original Earth is failing and parallel Earths seem to hold the answer to the future. However, there is a strange shift in one of the parallel Earths. This planet is known for its simplicity and is where Lobsang, an elderly AI, has disguised himself as human and is living his life in obscurity.
Soon though, an new intelligent new life form, known simply as the Next, has been discovered by the children on this planet and seem to be friendly. They actively trade for rocks and junk while leaving nice gifts of jewelry in return. Along with this discovery, both Lobsang and his partner have found a strange anomaly creating uncomfortable changes in the sequence of time. While most humans do not feel a difference, it creates havoc with the AI’s internal clock. While the causes of the anomaly are unknown, the results appear to be shorter days.
Since travel among the planets is facilitated with a box for stepping (a form of moving between plants), even this procedure is at risk. There is a group of steppers, however, that are able to step between time and space without the use of the computer technology from the box, but they must remain hidden for they are deemed a danger to the world. Lobsang must come out of hiding and track down these hidden steppers, for with their abilities they may be the only way to save this world. The connection between the planets is at risk as Lobsang and his group discover that the Next are on a course to destroy the very core of their home. Can they find if this is the real intention and if so, can they save this planet before the Next find a way to destroy the entire human and AI race?
The late Pratchett was known for his works featuring alternate realities. In The Long Utopia he moves us into another realm of space and the unknown. With Baxter as a coauthor we can be sure this world will not sink into obscurity. The characters, both human and AI, are gentle and smart, but unprepared for what is about to happen. You find yourself drawn to them, with all their flaws and feelings. The differing forms of travel and abilities are unique and quite interesting, keeping you enthralled with the process of moving through time and space.
As we are introduced to the Next, we are unprepared for their part in the changing of the world. So when the real story comes to light, confusion and perplexity keeps you digging for answers. They seem to be a gentle race and for years barter with the children, yet both their motives and background are unknown. They are creatures of both nature and technology and are like insects with a hive mentality. They seem to communicate in much the same way, and once their intentions are known, the danger becomes very clear.
If you enjoy science fiction you will be pleased with this latest work by Pratchett and Baxter. This moves a little beyond the young adult fiction that Pratchett had been known for and takes us into Long Earth and an exciting new future.