Parasites: The Kon-Tiki Quartet: Part Two by Eric Brown and Keith Brooke (book review).

Back in February, I reviewed ‘Dislocations’, the first volume in a quartet of novellas jointly written by British SF authors Eric Brown and Keith Brooke. I’ve now caught up with the second volume, ‘Parasites’.

The story is set one hundred years later on as the Kon-Tiki spacecraft which was launched at the end of ‘Dislocations’ arrives at its destination, an Earth-like exoplanet fifty light years distant, orbiting within the binary star system 19 Draconis. The eighteen clones of Earth’s foremost scientists and engineers who were selected to lead mankind’s first interstellar colonisation mission are woken from hibernation. However, when they land on the planet they’ve called Newhaven, it’s to a shock: the planet is already inhabited!

Far from coming face to face with little green men, however, the Kon-Tiki’s crew are greeted by people they left behind on Earth a century earlier. Their and our confusion is resolved when they are told that Earth’s technology advanced so rapidly after they left that a smaller, faster ship was launched twelve years after theirs, arriving on the planet over a decade before them and, on arrival, the ship 3D-printed its settlers from data held onboard!

As in ‘Dislocations’, the story is told from the perspective of three of these experts in particular. Kat Manning is one of the Kon-Tiki’s crew, a clone newly awoken after a century of hibernation. She is met by the 3D-printed versions of two men she knew well at home. Travis Denholme was a modest exo-biologist who was a good friend, while Daniel DeVries was a loud-mouthed extrovert who worked in her team of psychologists but always seemed to think he deserved her job. It quickly becomes apparent that events on Earth after the Kon-Tiki left brought Kat’s original into much closer contact with both men’s originals, with life-changing consequences that all three of the clones will now have to try to come to terms with.

In addition to the main characters’ emotional challenges, the newly-arrived crew are now faced with a major problem. They and the five thousand colonists they have brought with them were expecting to settle a pristine world. Instead, they seem to be surplus to requirements, joining an established colony whose knowledge of the planet they’re on and the skills needed to settle it are better in every way than theirs. Will they be able to find a valid role for themselves?

As with the previous volume, the cover art by Ben Baldwin is beautiful, perfectly capturing the disquieting nature of the almost familiar yet strangely different ecology of the Earth-like exoplanet Newhaven.

The title of the novella, ‘Parasites’, initially appears to be a reference solely to the biological relationship between two of the alien species being studied by Travis. However, Brown and Brooke have also made the theme of parasitic behaviour permeate the story metaphorically, as a potential interesting way of reading some of the human relationships within the newly expanded colony.

As in the previous novella, the theme of cloning is explored here with fascinating results. In this book, the situation is even more complex because although all the humans on Newhaven are clones, their departure times from Earth and the amount they’ve aged since are different. Kat and the Kon-Tiki crew are physically the same age they were a century earlier when they set off from Earth, plus their memories stopped at that point.

The 3D-printed colonists set off from Earth twelve years after them and arrived over a decade before them, so they are nearly a quarter of a century older, physically, than the originals that Kat was familiar with. Also, a lot happened on Earth in those twelve years after the Kon-Tiki left, none of which Kat has any knowledge of. This causes a lot of difficulties for Kat, Travis and Daniel, which Brown and Brooke exploit to great effect.

There was one element of the human story that I found less convincing. We are told that Kat is one of the foremost psychologists of her age. That’s why she was selected for the first interstellar exploration mission. Given this, it’s slightly surprising how dumb she is at a key point in the book, when she quickly agrees to do something suggested by a person whose motives and behaviour are so obviously suspect. This didn’t ring true for me.

Although the focus is mostly on the human characters, the ecology of this alien world is explored in some detail, too. I loved the marmoset-like creatures and the whale-sized slugs known as geosaurs, whose originally parasitic, though now more symbiotic, relationship Travis is studying. They add a level of detail to the alien environment which gives it a strong air of authenticity.

Given that ‘Parasites’ is told at novella-length, Eric Brown and Keith Brooke have managed to pack an awful lot of story into it. It’s a worthy sequel to ‘Dislocations’, expanding the story universe of the first book in exciting new directions. I’m looking forward to seeing where they take things in Part Three, ‘Insights’.

Patrick Mahon

August 2019

(pub: PS Publishing. 84 page hardback novella. Price: £15.00 (UK). ISBN 978-1-786363-47-3)

check out websites: www.pspublishing.co.uk, www.ericbrown.co.uk and www.keithbrooke.co.uk

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