This is a review for Parasites by Matthew Samuels. I received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I took a while just thinking how to properly describe the sub-genre of sci-fi that I feel Parasites sits in. Solarpunk is probably the closest – despite having a slight dystopian vibe in parts, the society and many aspects of the world are a future many would aspire to live in. Except the planet is dying, as are it’s people, with a dangerous lack of resources adding a layer of dystopia over the hopeful optimism of Solarpunk. This gives the setting quite a unique premise – there is amazing technology available that we could only dream of using, yet resources are so scarce that expeditions are set up simply to find new ways of generating them.
We start on our protagonists’ home planet of Lyra, with the main characters tasked with charting other universes and planets in the hope of a solution – even finding seeds they can grow into vegetables in the radioactive soil back in their home city of Vega is a worthwhile venture. I was tempted to therefore run a tagline of Vegans start to run out of plants but I think that my childish humour could do a disservice to the story.
The story, then. The narrative is written in the second person. Having not read a story from this perspective since I can remember, it immediately felt a little alien to me (pun not intended). I even questioned whether this would prevent the immersion I hoped to feel. Fortunately, my misgivings were misguided and this actually added to the feeling of being in the middle of the action and I can genuinely say I really didn’t consciously notice it after the first few pages. Samuels has a brilliant sense of adventure, imagination and creativity that is prevalent through the whole story. Through his imagination he is able to engage the reader’s interest, to the extent that even when the story at times does drift off a linear path and you begin to forget what it is the characters are trying to do, the sense of discovery and adventure always keeps you turning the page.
Perhaps this is why I felt in very small parts the story wasn’t quite moving quickly enough. It was in actual fact probably moving at a reasonable pace, I just wanted to get back to first contact, discovering other alien races and planets because those parts were just so good. I was therefore willing the story to move on quickly in any of the more ‘downtime’ type scenarios – fixing the vehicle and the characters problem solving between themselves, or discussing what had happened in the previous scene for example. For readers who do prefer hard science fiction, or detailed and realistic explanations of how everything works (and could work in the real world) this book may not be for you. You do have to accept that some technology or way the universe functions just works whether particularly plausible or without in depth analysis. For me, being in a mood for care-free adventure that was easy to read and just enjoy the ride, this satisfied what I was looking for.
Despite being impatient for the action and discovery parts of the story, I enjoyed the character interactions and they were all well written. I’d say my favourite character was Basteel – I always felt safe when he was involved! I enjoyed his honest, hopeful but realistic approach and felt his presence was important for the balance of the other characters, and that the reassurance of his experience in difficult situations kept the rest of the crew as calm as possible. We have Sylph who is probably the most interesting of the characters – I did think she was sometimes able to solve everything perhaps just a little too easily for her age, though it is really driven into the reader that she is a prodigy and one of a kind analytical mind. The two main characters, Alessia and Kael are perfectly likeable and certainly played their part in the dynamic of the crew. I’d say they’re not quite as intriguing to me personally as Basteel or Sylph but can hold their own together without the other characters. I think this may be because Basteel and Sylph have more specialist roles, although Alessia makes a pretty awesome doctor/medic judging by one particular scene! I’d personally be really interested in reading a novella or short story featuring Basteel and Caroline (his absent combat partner) on previous missions, where there’d be a lot of scope for worldbuilding, further character development or just plain simple fun and adventure.
As mentioned, where this book really excels is in the adventure and discovery aspect. Every new planet and organism encountered is well thought out, inventive and fun. It’s easy to share the characters’ foreboding, interest and desire to investigate further. You can really feel the uncomfortable, bleak isolation of the Crystal Planet and the eeriness of first entry to Space Station 728, with each planet having a very different vibe. This is something that holds endless possibilities for a series should Samuels wish to write a sequel, which would work with the current cast of characters, any of them picked out from the group or even in fact a new cast of characters set in the same world. The story is left in a place where it works as a standalone or could have these possibilities and more for a series, definitely. If there is a sequel I’d love it to go a bit deeper and explore the origins of life or the history of some of the planets or species in the universe created here. There’s certainly potential for more world (universes?) building and either a deeper approach or simply another fun adventure. Many books have a great start introducing everything, and a fast paced finish when the author knew where the journey would end, with stagnation in the middle. One of this book’s strengths is that it doesn’t fall into this trap and it keeps you engaged throughout the story. You don’t feel like you are just reading waiting for something to happen at the end.
For a debut novel, independently published, I was seriously impressed with Parasites and would definitely read a follow on book. Matthew Samuels’ creative flair is certainly strong enough to drive a long career, this book feeling like it was written by an author with quite a back catalogue already published.