I read this book in chunks, which is pretty telling of its enthralling capabilities (not that great).
Read it because of a friend's recommendation and Terry Pratchett's name on the cover.
The only reason it's worth reading is for the introduction of the long earth and the steppers. This concept really has not been seen before in science fiction, to my knowledge, and is just a delight to get to know this world (worlds?). But other than that, there aren't that many other positives. I didn't really care for the characters because they had such a low impact on the book. They are more like tour guides, or the eyes through which we see the world rather than characters that make or resolve conflicts and start actions and climaxes.
Joshua was too bland of a character. It's cool that he's an introvert, but his lack of interaction with people does have an impact on how much character development is possible. Lobsang was only interesting in theory - how he won his rights to not be called just an AI, how he steps, and such. But his personality was really quite obnoxious. and together? They make a weird dynamic that is mostly silent or small and witty.
It was a boring book, to be completely honest. Only the reaction of Datum's population to the discovery of stepping was interesting. The concept of whether people would just pick up and leave or utilize it to start over.
I don't know Baxter's style of writing, but I could definitely see some of Terry Pratchett from the dropped references to pop culture, a bit of the crazy worlds, some evolutionary aspects that reminded me of the Fifth Elephant. But I don't think their collaboration worked. All of Pratchett's humor seemed to be cut out and replaced by monotony.
The ending felt incomplete, but that just might be because it's a series with 5 books. But still, I wish there were a little more closure. Also, I looked over the reviews for the sequel and it seems that it is more dull than this book. Which, eh, makes me not want to read it. I might in the future.
Two stars because only the premise was interesting. And a premise could be read from the summary.
Read at your own risk, Terry Pratchett's fans. Keep your expectations low.