Rating: 5 out of 5
Parasite, by Darcy Coates, is less a novel and more a series of short stories that are meant to be read in order. Every story takes place on a different station, starting with Station 331 and going incrementally until it ends on Station 335. Each story contains a different set of characters, so there is no through-line protagonist. This has both good and bad effects. One thing that surprised me about the stories is that I was able to switch interest in the characters from story to story. I never felt like I was losing something because of the lack of a single protagonist, and I thought that I would.
In “Station 331,” a very unimportant, tiny station on a moon is manned by three women. Their job is mostly to “deal with” any dangerous lifeforms that might end up on the moon via comets or space debris. It’s a job given to people who have royally messed up, due to the isolation and boredom. This time, the characters find a new type of lifeform hanging around, one that’s big, black, tentacled, and has rivulets of red running along it. This is a kind of parasite, able to wear a person’s skin and personality, allowing it entrance to all sorts of places.
We work our way back toward the center of the known universe with each story. 45 distress calls have been logged in 10 days, and they’re running out of trouble-shooting teams to send. When Kala (in Station 333) gets a hold of a sample of the being, she discovers a couple of weaknesses. Can she escape to get word out?
The aliens work their way toward bigger and bigger outposts–this does a fantastic job of upping the stakes and tension with each story.. Maren, Saul, Mark, and Gin (Station 334) have an extra problem to deal with: their commander, Suriya, is going mad. Apparently this isn’t entirely unexpected in isolated outposts, but it sure complicates things when the aliens show up!
In “Station 335,” Mitzi, former military with a dishonorable discharge, is assigned a mission (because the government is legitimately that low on people to fight the aliens). She has a squad full of people who’ve never fought before and never should have been sent on a mission like this. By this time, roughly a third of stations have gone dark. This is the biggest mission yet: burning an entire planet free of the aliens that took it over.
Coates’s strengths are in characters, pacing, and action. I had no trouble getting into the characters in each story, even though there was no overarching protagonist. I was thrilled when two people figured out they loved each other, and I was horrified when a character I was fond of got taken over. The writing really hooked my emotions. The pacing, with the stakes getting higher in each story, was fantastic. And the action scenes were packed with heroic efforts and high-stakes battles. The only thing at all that might be considered a negative is that due to the format, as well as there being no protagonist, there’s also no overall closure or satisfaction to the book. The individual stories are ended well, but there’s no overall “ending.” Mostly this bothered me a little because I never got an answer to the question: how did all of these aliens show up on so many little outposts at once?
I would absolutely read a book formed like this one again. At least, if Darcy Coates was writing it.