A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.
We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.
I was incredibly nervous about reading Parasite. Not because it was a supremely creepy subject matter (anything having to do with the inner workings of the human body makes my palms sweat) but because I love Mira Grant’s previous work so, so very much, if this book was anything short of amazing I was going to go cry myself to sleep in a gallon of ice cream.
I’m pleased to report that while not as unbelievably fantastic as Feed, (take this with a grain of salt, if we’ve ever talked at all you may have noticed that I am a huge, unapologetic Newsflesh trilogy fangirl and I strongly recommend starting there if you want to get an idea of the damage Mira Grant can do with your nervous system) Parasite was an intense, horrifying look at where society’s quest to tinker with everything we can get our hands on could lead.
The thing that makes this book so damn scary is how possible it all is. Mira Grant intersperses the chapters with clips from interviews, articles, case studies and lab notes (the earliest of which are dated 2015) that slowly reveal how a medical R&D company called SymboGen initially developed a parasitic intestinal implant to replace medications and regulate chronic conditions and then convinced the world’s population to embrace it.
A number of you are probably rolling your eyes and scoffing. Thinking things like: That’s ludicrous, I would never knowingly allow someone to stick a genetically engineered tapeworm in my gut, ’tis laughable. To which I say, are you sure? I hate to break it to you folks, it’s one of those unpalatable truths that we try to ignore, but people can be convinced of damn near anything given enough time and the right combination of soothing words said in a confident and trustworthy manner.
Don’t believe me? There’s a myriad of available examples of this phenomenon. Let’s look at Lasik surgery. It has become a completely commonplace procedure, considered so minor you can get it done one day and be back at work the next, but when you really think about it, it’s freaky as hell (skip ahead if you’re squeamish.) While the patient is awake and aware, doctors slice an opening in your eyeball and shave tissue off of your optical nerve by shooting lasers into your pupil. If they are off by a fraction of a millimeter, best case scenario: goodbye clear vision, hello migraines for life. But hey, everyone does it, it’s totally safe, no big deal. I’ll bet by the time 2027 (the time frame for this book) rolls around, there will be something equally as mind-boggling as parasite pills being peddled as the medical marvel of our time and we’ll all be saying ‘yes please’ without knowing exactly what we’re asking for.
And that’s what makes Mira Grant so brilliant and terrifying. She knows enough about human nature and scientific progress to recognize that the possibilities for disaster are huge. In the words of the main character’s boyfriend, Nathan:
“Science doesn't always play nicely with the other children.”
The main character, Sal, is dealing with a writhing mass of issues I can’t even begin to imagine. When the story opens, Sally Mitchell lies comatose in the hospital following a massive car wreck that left her brain-dead and unlikely to ever wake up. But then, miraculously, she does! (Completely thanks to her miracle parasite, SymboGen is quick to claim because hey! why let a young woman’s near death experience and resulting trauma get in the way of an excellent PR opportunity?) The thing is, she remembers nothing from before the accident. Like, nothing nothing. The kind of nothing that means she needs to relearn everything, from how to walk, how to talk all the way to it’s not polite to drop trou and pee in front of a room full of people.
After establishing Sal’s situation, the plot jumps ahead 6 years. The reborn version of Sally Mitchell is slowly trying to claim her own identity independent from the previous self she still has absolutely no recollection of being. While I could see her sporadic childishness getting a little annoying, I thought it made sense. Wouldn’t you be a tad belligerent if you were surrounded by a bunch of people either trying to use you for their own mysterious means or anxiously watching and waiting for the person you used to be to reemerge? The exception to this being the aforementioned Nathan, her charming, adorable boyfriend. Sal and Nathan make an excellent team and it’s refreshing to see an existing, stable relationship in play.
The other characters fantastic, I would expect nothing less from Mira Grant. She has this incredible ability to write people who are so vibrantly alive, you instantly develop feelings about them. For real though, if anyone wants to write some Tansy/Sherman fic, I will read it. I also greatly appreciate the diversity, we have a healthy mix of races and sexualities, all casually depicted as though non-straight, non-white people are a thing that happens in everyday life (sarcasm in that last bit, if it wasn’t clear.)
Where the Newsflesh trilogy stabs you in the face with brutal emotion, Parasite has it’s own kind of creeping horror. The tension slowly builds as the plot twists and turns its way to an all-hell-is-breaking-loose-and-oh-shit-are-those-zombies? conclusion that has me frantic for the next book. Though a number of those twists took me by surprise, the big final reveal wasn’t a total shock. It makes me wonder if Mira Grant intended for the reader to see it coming, causing them to experience the characters’ growing dread and denial for themselves because believe me when I say, if she wants to surprise you, she will.
Bottom line, read Parasite. It’s exciting, informative, well-written and deep without being obnoxiously heavy-handed about it. The subject matter and release date make it an excellent Halloween read. I know it’s unfair to judge a book by the previous and unrelated works of the author, so I’ve tried very hard to look at Parasite for what it is, which is a promising first half to what is sure to be an excellent duology. It delivered most of what I hoped it would and I’m very glad about that because drowning my sorrows in more frozen dairy than the human body is meant to absorb is a good way to make sure I feel like hell the next day.
This review also appears on Cuddlebuggery.