The Spaced Out Library

Review by editor

     Terry Pratchett has had a great deal of  popularity within the science fiction and fantasy range; his Discworld books were familiar to followers of the New York Times bestseller listings and he remained for a long period of time in that much-envied position.  He was a world-builder and even a Universe builder, using alternate reality makings as his raw materials; you could see that he transcended God in his creation capacities, except that, unlike God, Pratchett’s worlds were imaginary, unrealized in reality. Still, he had that remembrance of the creative ability about him, an aura of one who brings things into existence. I use the past tense in speaking of him because he has now been deceased for a few years, which is a pity because one must add mortality to his distance from the fulfillment of creation. But shucks. Who isn’t mortal? Yet Pratchett was one of the dreamers of non-mortality, one who imagined life extending beyond its perimeters and constantly renewing itself. This was one of the themes with which he struggled.

     I would call his single most significant book THE LONG UTOPIA, which he wrote in collaboration with Stephen Baxter. Its jacket has upon it the warning “A Step Too Far…”, and it may be that Pratchett’s books did take such a step, or it may be that as a writer he was a moralist warning against taking too many of those steps out beyond the ordinary world. A lot of his characters die in this volume, and one retains his life but as an artificial intelligence based upon a real being at one time existing, now named Lobsang, apparently a name derived from T. Lobsang Rampa, the author of the short work “The Third Eye”.  As with the Discworld, the Long Earth books are a series, all done in collaboration with Baxter, whose previous writings have tended to be about an involuted creation and about black hole existence.   You have Pratchett the positive, Baxter the negative, each having some of the traits of the other, combining their Weltanschauungs in an exploratory extension of an alternate reality of Earth, with a number of worlds of could be of no counted number, these worlds tending to become more moronic sociologically and environmentally as the extension continues, an elongated Earth. Pratchett is existential and is speculating what a largely imaginary existence would be like. His writings are debatable but his talent is not, as many can aver. Menaces in the book include creatures working prodigiously to destroy the Long Earth, or usurp it, one. The reader probably does not know what to make of the existential settings of these characters and cannot care about or identify with what happens to them, or disengage themselves entirely from the characters, either. They are loose representations of beingness combined with the normal selves which might be encountered. Not all science fiction writing is existential even though it might have a high concern with existence, and for this reason Pratchett’s book may be a good one to have, though it finds no more solution to the problems of existence than any other existential speculation has managed. As mystics say, the solutions must come from within; Pratchett has heard of this, and has a lot of mystical content.

     As it happens, there is no actual utopia in this book, and the utopian concept must be implicit from the title; no case is made for utopianism. Some might call what is in the book a dystopia, but it doesn’t seem to be that either but for the suggestion made for that involvement.

     It’s worth reading if you like what it’s about and want to think about what you have read, perhaps even discuss it with others.