Imagine a world parallel to ours, occupying the same position in space, but existing in another dimension. It’s a familiar theme in science fiction, and it has provided scope for a wide variety of stories – the 1990s television series Sliders being a prime example. But Diary of a Parallel Man puts an interesting spin on the idea. For a start, the protagonist is not from our Earth; his home is the other one, and he longs desperately to return there. But he’s stuck in a world that is demonstrably alien to him. And it’s not that he has two heads or green skin. He looks exactly like us. The only difference between his world and ours is that in his history, way back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t eat the apple. His world is a world without sin and death.
As a reader who is essentially atheistic in his thinking, you might think that this fictional scenario would be unappealing to me. But one doesn’t have to subscribe to Biblical literalism to appreciate the story. Of course, it is absurd that a world could exist where there is human immortality, an unending ability to reproduce, and a finite landmass. The math just doesn’t work. Nevertheless, one can regard the story as myth and still obtain a sense of what the author is attempting to communicate. And yes, this is one of those heavy stories that is all about the subtext.
David Elham is a Christian – one who is “in the world, not of it,” as the Bible says. And this tale is essentially an alien’s observations on the world. My copy of the book is personally inscribed to me with the words “For Darryl – My ‘Reality Check'”. Reality Check is a book I wrote a few years ago, where I questioned all of the conditioning of Western society. Although my worldview differs massively from Elham’s, I have to say that it was a stroke of genius for him to put his views across in the form of a novel.
The protagonist, Mahershalalhashbaz (named after one of the sons of Isaiah, if I remember my Bible studies), manages to transport himself to our Earth, where he quickly finds himself alone, alienated, penniless and homeless. Eventually, he befriends a young woman called Kirsty, who takes pity on him – and gives him the nickname Baz. Baz (and the author by extension) is shocked by the cruelty of the world. By reading the Bible, he learns what happened here, how mankind fell from a state of grace and inherited sin and death.
This explanation for why the world is full of suffering satisfies many, but not me. My metaphysical outlook is vastly different from the author’s, but is deeply rational. Sickness, disaster, predation, and the plain old competitive spirit – these are not manifestations of something that went wrong in the distant past; one thing versus another, on any fractal level of the universe, is merely the natural outworking of energy conversion. This is obviously a huge topic, so I’ll not go into depth on it right here.
The author critiques evolution at one point, in an unfortunately scoffing manner that really only shows Elham’s lack of research on the matter – a common failing among Christians. Some of Baz’s observations about people’s irrational behaviour are on point, but Baz occasionally comes out with a line that is really far-out – and I found myself wondering whether the author realises how unusual his character (and himself, by proxy) sounds. For instance, in a scene where an unbeliever cracks a joke about Jesus, making everyone laugh, Baz is so enraged that he shouts, “Is there any reason why any of you should be permitted to live?!”
At many points in the book, I wanted to pause and have a discussion with the author, because I felt I had legitimate counter-arguments to offer. Here’s one that sticks in mind. I happen to know that the author’s particular sect of Christianity forbids believers from joining the police or armed forces. Consider this exchange between Baz and co-worker Ralph:
‘… If everyone was like me, everyone in the world, there wouldn’t be any war at all. It’s only because we have these ridiculous borders drawn up that people fight over them. In my philosophy there are no such borders.’
He put his face very close to mine. ‘We don’t live in your philosophy; we live in the real world. Your paradise Earth, and,’ he indicated Clint without looking at him, ‘and his brotherhood of man do not exist. Greed and jealousy exist. War exists.’
‘But if everyone was like me, it wouldn’t.’
He gave up.
The author appears to paint his protagonist as the winner of this argument, but it doesn’t look that way to me at all. Any philosophy that refuses deal with the world as it is fails. In the real world, if there were no police, no one would have any protection from criminals. If we had no army, we would quickly be invaded by another country. It is totally hypocritical to benefit from the existence of the police and the army, while secretly condemning them for bearing arms. Pacifism only works in the author’s imagination of a perfect world which isn’t the world we have.
Diary of a Parallel Man could be called “Christian fiction,” but it is unique in that it contains very realistic swearing, blaspheming, and some very unguarded talk about life – including the topics of sex and pornography. For this I congratulate Elham. In my experience, it’s rare for a Christian to be this honest; Christian fiction tends to sugarcoat life somewhat.
Given my atheistic worldview, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s an interesting twist on the alternate Earth theme, one that makes you assess the world you live in, and it has an ending that confounded my expectations in the best possible way.