In The Long Earth, when the bomb was about to go off in Datum Madison, people were fleeing by means of stepping.

And the stepping began.
Parents carried their children, and went back for their own old folk, and their elderly neighbours. In care homes, some bewildered senior citizens had Steppers slapped on them and were sent East or West for the first time in their lives.

This implies that seniors were handed steppers and told to go. But in the very beginning of the book, it says that steppers only worked if the user completed the assembly themselves.

How could this work? The twisting of the wire required to complete the assembly obviously required some dexterity, and it would almost certainly take longer than the less than 60 second timeframe it apparently did.

  • Nice question! It's been a while since I've read the book, but could the assembly of a stepper be completed by closing a circuit via push button? Maybe the people of Datum have constructed a bunch of senior friendly devices since Step Day.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 4:27
  • @Shokhet hm, maybe. IIRC there was something around the coil winding being "hypnotizing", implying that had to be completed by the user themself. I'll check later.
    – user72
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


This looks like one of the small (potential) inconsistencies you can find in this series (or just hypothesis of the characters?), which allow the story to continue and escalate. We can find references pointing to the need of the manual construction by Lobsang:

"I myself went through the physical process of constructing a Stepper, via an ambulant unit. I might venture to suggest that it is unlocking a door within us that most of us don’t know exists."

[24th chapter, The Long Earth]

This is also mentioned when the police Steppers created, that need just a simple thing to finish the Stepper and make the process work:

"Since Step Day, things had moved on quickly. The techs had come up with a police-issue Stepper, robust components in a sleek black plastic case, resistant even to a close-range gunshot. Of course, as with all Steppers – just as she’d found at the start with Linsay’s prototype – to make it work for you, you had to finish the assembly of the working components yourself. It was a nice piece of kit, although you had to ignore the jokes about the potatoes needed to run it. ‘Do you want fries with that, Officer?’ Ha ha."

[9th chapter, The Long Earth]

This leads to the most probable answer, that construction of the whole stepper box is not needed, but you just need to finish the construction, which could happen pretty fast to accommodate the requirement of 60 seconds in question (though this is probably not stated well in the book, for the fact that it had to happen very fast).

  • Hm, I guess so. I still find it somewhat dubious that senior citizens were able to complete that in under 60 seconds, but I guess that's the only in-universe explanation.
    – user72
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 1:01
  • Also, welcome to Literature.SE! hope you stick around!
    – user72
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 1:01

Quoting from the 24th chapter of The Long Earth (boldface mine):

Joshua asked, ’So why do people need Steppers at all?’

[Lobsang:] ‘Perhaps in a more indirect way than is imagined, Joshua. The brief notes Linsay left insist that the placing of every component is crucial and needs pin-sharp care, so that the builder’s attention is totally wrapped up in the task. The need to align the two home-wound coils reminds me of the tuning of early metal detectors. As for the other components, they appear to be there for the look of the thing, and the look can be very important. The winding of the coils themselves is especially hypnotic. If I may be Tibetan for a moment, I believe that what we have here is a kind of technological mandala, designed to tilt the mind into a subtly different state, disguised as a bit of everyday western technology. It is the act of making a Stepper that enables one to step, you see, not the gadget itself.

There are two important aspects here:

  1. While the first instructions for the Stepper required you to do everything yourself, it was later found out that this is not essential. It is only to be expected that in the 25 years between Step Day and the Madison Bomb, people meticulously optimised steppers to require as little effort as possible from their user. On this basis, a stepper completion within a minute is not surprising (see also the passage quoted by Jakuje).

  2. If Lobsang’s hypothesis is true, dexterity is not important factor, but rather putting your mind in the right state.

  • Fair points. Just makes one wonder a little; were they really able to achieve that state right before the volcano blew?
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 12:59
  • What state? Also, this is about the Madison Bomb, not the Yellowstone Eruption.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 13:02
  • My apologies. It's been a while since I read the books. The mental state I refer to is in your Lobsang quote: "If I may be Tibetan for a moment, I believe that what we have here is a kind of technological mandala, designed to tilt the mind into a subtly different state, disguised as a bit of everyday western technology"
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 13:05
  • @Shokhet since the people never really knew they were achieving a state at all, I would guess that what they were actually thinking during the whole business doesn't affect the outcome
    – muru
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 10:38
  • @muru I'd be inclined to disagree. I think one can enter a mental state without being aware of what they're doing. I think Lobsang's theory is as good as any as for why a person might need to complete a stepper themselves.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:07

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