Number One: It’s not a romance. It’s a SF/horror/thriller about people being taken over by tapeworms and becoming tapeworm powered zombies.
Number Two: It’s really, really good. It was only a slavish sense of loyalty to the author that drove me to even consider reading a book with tapeworms in it and I was captivated.
Number Three: It ends on a cliffhanger. This is torture.
I realize that under normal circumstances a book about tapeworm zombies is a bit out of Smart Bitches usual oeuvre, but I’ve noticed that Mira Grant has many ardent fans on this site. If you are already a fan, then this book will not disappoint. If not, then this book is a good place to start. Mira Grant is the author of the Newsflesh trilogy and, writing as Seanan McGuire, she writes urban fantasy. She has an amazing range and a great ability to firmly ground her fantastical and science fictional elements in real-world stuff. She writes a lot about the general area where I live and she has the sense of place down perfectly, as well as an understanding that normal people have to navigate traffic, and eat and sleep and pee and pay rent.
So, behold the plot of Parasite. In the year 2027, a company named SymboGen has virtually eliminated all diseases and allergies by means of a simple treatment. People who become hosts for the bioengineered “Intestinal Bodyguard” live medically charmed lives. But the parasites begin to take over their hosts, causing them to behave in a zombie-like state.
Sally is a young woman who survived a car accident due to SymboGen’s treatment. She can’t remember anything that happened prior to the accident and she is desperate to continue getting medical care from SymboGen (she has strange, unpredictable, and life threatening medical crises). But she is also desperate to avoid becoming SymboGen’s prisoner. And, with the advent of what I am choosing to call ‘the zombie tapeworm potential apocalypse’, she is desperate to find answers and a treatment before everyone she is close to betrays her, dies, or both.
I cannot stress how very reluctant I was to read a story about tapeworm-infested zombies. But although the premise of this story is inherently disgusting, there’s very little gore or other visual grossness. Instead, there’s a compelling main character and an incredibly compelling plot. There’s romance in the sense that one of the characters is Sally’s incredibly perfect boyfriend, but their romance is already established when the book begins and stays pretty stable.
This book lacks the scale of the Newsflesh trilogy, but what it lacks in scale it makes up for immediacy. Many of the characters are pretty one-dimensional – the worried mom, the protective father, the sensitive boyfriend, and several varieties of evil scientists. But although those characters represent common types, they still have a sense of humanity about them. And I found myself rooting rather desperately for Sally, even during a part of the story when I wanted to whack her on the head. One nice thing is that Sally and her boyfriend, Nathan, tell each other everything that has happened to them, and everything they know, at every opportunity. They’re not going to hang out in the middle of combat and discuss their feelings, but they are also smart enough to share information in detail as much as possible.
Here’s why I think this book works so well.
One: having introduced a disgusting premise, it doesn’t need to heap on the gore. We’re already grossed out. Now we, as readers, need to understand why so many people voluntarily agreed to become tapeworm hosts, and why this is not only disgusting but dangerous as well, without being distracted by slime.
Two: The science may or may not be plausible, but it reads as though someone has done their homework. As it happens, Mira Grant did tons of research for this book, and it shows. I don’t know what a biologist would make of this book, but at least it didn’t hit me over the head with concepts that were blatantly false or impossible (at least, not without having other characters say, “This is impossible”!).
Finally, Mira Grant makes this book feel immediate and scary because she never forgets the mundane. Sally’s job with the animal shelter isn’t all about being a ministering angel to puppies and kittens. It involves cleaning up animal poop, and pee, and on occasion, animal vomit. Her dog gets muddy paw prints on the couch. She sleeps a lot and she likes to eat and she is terrified of cars. This story is set only slightly into the future and it feels very much like it’s happening right now.
On the first reading, I was so wrapped up in the story that I barely had time to quibble with it. But I do have some slight criticisms, and I suspect they would be more glaring on further reading. Some of the plot twists seemed very obvious. Now granted, sometimes this is the point, and sometimes it’s a false lead. There were several times when I was sure something was about to happen but it didn’t.
The other thing that bothered me was when the plot required that something wildly implausible take place, and Sally comments on this by saying, “Nature doesn’t have to make sense. Nature just does”. Now, granted, Sally is the only non-scientist in the group, and the scientist people don’t seem to buy this. But honestly Sally – nature does have to make a certain degree of sense. Doesn’t mean we know everything about how nature works – but we know it has rules. This line actually broke my attention for, I dunno, entire seconds before I was back in the story.
As I understand it, right now the idea is that this will only be a two part series. For the sake of my fragile nerves, I hope this is true!
Here is one last thing. I know some people with pets (like me) can’t bear to read a book with dogs in it unless they know in advance how things go with said dogs. That way we dog huggers can either sigh in relief or stock up on tissues in advance. If you like spoilers re. the fate of dogs, here you go:
As of the end of Book One, both dogs are fine.
For movie related dog spoilers, I refer you to the website www.doesthedogdie.com. It’s brilliant.