I saw this book a number of times over the last few years, and I knew that it won the 2012 Goodreads Best Science-Fiction novel, which is a fairly high claim. Though when you look on its review page, a number of negative reviews feature greatly, they thought it was too idea focused, or that it wasn’t up to Prachett’s standards (which makes me excited to try to read some Prachett). I however, disagree with their reviews, and loved this book, though I can see where they are coming from. Perhaps it’s my fondness for the idea of multi-verses and science (even if it’s science fiction), but I really enjoyed the book.So the whole idea of this book is that suddenly released (for free) the instructions on how to build a ‘stepper’, which is a device that can transport you into worlds which are ‘east or west’ of our Earth. So basically a whole new Earth (not identical, all possible Earths), but uninhabited (well, by humans at least). Which is both a wonderful and a terrible thing at the same time. Think about it. Now there’s unlimited space and resources, great. Plus if you want to, you can go colonise a whole new world. You can escape from people, you can be the first to explore a planet. But on the other hand, it means that anyone could just pop into your house (all they have to do is move into that location in another planet, and then step back), think of the murders and theft! And it means that all resources are worth a whole lot less, gold, who cares, you can just go get some yourself. The only thing is, you can’t take iron across, which means a lot of things we have today can’t be taken across. So either you develop an iron free version, or you mine and smelter the iron yourself. So what ends up happening is that a lot of people start needing to act like the old pioneers, and all the old skills are revitalised and become high value items.
But we find out that in fact there were natural steppers much earlier than the release of the stepper, who can step without one. And there was one individual in particular, Joshua, who can step without getting ill like everyone else. And with natural steppers come those who can’t step at all (phobics). Of course that means an ‘us vs them’ situation emerges, and it becomes political and deadly.
But for most of the time it is Joshua, with Lobson (an AI) travelling along the worlds, trying to go as far as possible to see what’s out there. It’s an exploration mission, and I found it exciting. Just what were they going to find? And indeed, they found some very curious things. Like, elves and trolls, well humanoid things which Lobson decided perhaps were what inspired our mythology. And then there was Happy Landings, a place way far out, where people and trolls were living together. Too far for steppers (except for Lobson and co. in their blimp) to reach just yet, but people were there. How? Because of wormhole type things. And Josh is very uneasy there.
Lobson certainly is an interesting character, since he is the first AI declared human. For a moment I was confused about the fact that Lobson was talking out a vending machine, and then we had to go into his office to talk further, but anyway. I liked seeing how much more human Lobson was beginning to get as the journey progressed.
And then we have the ending. So they eventually reach a very far point where they meet ‘First-Person Singular’, an organism which seems to contain all organisms it comes into contact with. It’s like a Noah’s Ark but alive. The thing is, it’s all consuming, so, it’s not exactly something you want to come to your Earth. And Lobson decides he’ll go with it. Now that means somewhat little because he still remains back on the original earth, and they have a backup of him here, so it’s not like it’s the end, but it is a goodbye. But that isn’t the end, we return to Datum Earth (the original one) and find that those anti-steppers have set off a nuclear bomb. It ain’t pretty. And is just the beginning for The Long War, or so I imagine.