foreword by Stephen Baxter
(Immanion Press, £13.99, 188 pages, trade paperback, 2007; ISBN
'the apparent shift of an object against a background caused by a change
in observer position.' So says Wikipedia, and thus enlightened I'm inclined
to think Parallax View is a good choice of title for this collection
of jointly-written stories by Brown and Brooke. In their particular
parallax the apparently shifting object is the human, the background
is our future, and it's Brooke and Brown's storytelling skills that
cause the change in position, revealing familiar situations and addressing
them from unfamiliar directions. For with the future or fantastic elements
removed these are very traditional short stories, delicate little vignettes
that carefully twist the gem of an idea this way or that, watching to
see which way a single ray of truth might be reflected. It's a subtle
title containing some gently hidden meaning, very much like the stories
Parallax View was originally published back in 2000, collecting
all the Brooke and Brown collaborative stories, plus some solo efforts.
This updated edition, in paperback for the first time, is trimmed of
the solo efforts and adds a new story, 'In Transit', produced specially
for this collection, bringing the total number of stories to seven.
And quite a seven they are.
Biology rather than technology is the central science fictional idea
here. Even when there are actual spaceships at the heart of a story,
as in 'The Flight Of The Oh Carrollian' they're living constructs; and
the huge, but only vaguely alluded to, galactic civilisation they support
is mere detail compared to the dysfunctional family at the story's heart.
'The Denebian Cycle' follows a planetary survey team accidentally denuded
of all its wonderful technology struggling to survive and to understand
an alien race -- it's a biological detective story with a satirical
edge of misandry to it. 'Under Antares' combines elements of both the
previous stories, following a guilt-ridden father whose xenobiologist
son has transgressed against an alien race with some harshly prescriptive
and unfathomably complex religious rules.
'Sugar And Spice' questions the value of murderous revenge, asking
if, in the long term, understanding and forgiveness cannot fail to fare
better than Hollywood-style violent retribution. 'In Transit' also does
something similar, and specifically brings religion into the mix, pitting
a virulently fundamentalist and militarised mankind (probably the very
worst kind) in an interstellar war against the mysterious Kryte, although
the story itself predominantly features one man and his Kryte trying,
in their own ways, to comprehend each other.
In fact, I don't think there's a story in this collection that doesn't
promote the ideals of understanding and empathy in one form or another.
Which isn't to say that Parallax View is full of sugar and spice
and all things nice -- quite the opposite. There's an awful lot of misery
absolutely entrenched in these stories -- a lot of struggle, grief,
betrayal and loss -- but what Brooke and Brown do superlatively well
is turn this negativity around, and show how we can learn from such
experiences, so as not to be doomed to repeat them. Addtionally, while
the loss of children and family members is a recurring plot device,
none of these stories revel in grief for grief's sake: the central theme
here is redemption; that noble striving for forgiveness wherein the
best and the worst of our humanity is revealed in all its bloody glory.
For it seems that even with the stars in our grasp our frailties and
frequent wilful stupidity will still conspire to bring us down.
At best, Brown and Brooke seem to be saying - at best - we have
only a chance of redemption, not the certainty of it; and most of these
stories end with merely the offer of that chance and not its realisation.
This is serious science fiction for the more thoughtful grown-ups amongst
Elsewhere in infinity plus: