Parasite by Mira Grant (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire)
Published: Orbit, 2013
Series: Book 1 of Parasitology
Awards Nominated: Hugo Award
“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 Intestinal Bodyguard worm 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.” ~WWend.com
This is the fourth novel I’ve read by Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, and her fourth Hugo nomination for best novel. I really loved Feed, but was not a huge fan of the sequels.
Parasite seemed very similar to the Newsflesh Trilogy, both in some ways I enjoyed and in other ways that I did not. The writing style is similar to the style of Newsflesh, with the same tendencies towards repetition of phrases (e.g. “the hot warm dark”, “Don’t go out alone”, etc.). The story is also centered about a pretty neat speculative human-health idea, like the zombie virus in Newsflesh. I can see how a SymboGen worm that dispenses medicines would be very useful for people with chronic illnesses, and I’m sure it’s weight-managing abilities would help it gain popularity. While there was discussion on the genetics of the worm, I would have liked to get a little more information on how it could actually do all the things SymboGen claims.
Though the worm is pretty cool, the world situation in which the story begins seems a little improbable. Within about a decade, it seems that virtually everyone has accepted a SymboGen worm into their bodies. Even given the benefits of the worm, I think this seems very unlikely. I appreciated that the idea was somewhat addressed in a series of excerpts on advertising, titled “Selling the Unsellable”. In addition to universal acceptance, the story relies on the idea that no one has ever skipped their 2-year replacement appointment, and that there has never been any official study of a commercial worm from the body of a consumer, outside of SymboGen. There may be good explanations for the last two, but for now, it was enough to stretch my suspension of disbelief a little bit too far.
Some of the character types were also familiar from Newsflesh, including the cardboard villain, the mad scientist, and a quirky, hyperactive, violent, woman (similar to a minor character in Blackout). I am not really a fan of any of these character types, and I was especially annoyed by the novel’s depiction of science/scientists. On the other hand, the heroine, Sal, had a really interesting personality and situation. Sal woke up from a car accident with total amnesia (memories and knowledge), and spent six years trying to simultaneously fit back into her former life and establish her new identity. In some ways she seemed to have re-adapted to her life almost unbelievably well, but she also still possessed a certain short-sighted immaturity. Her difficulties in prioritization, making decisions, and figuring things out makes sense in terms of her overall inexperience with the world, even though it sometimes made her a pretty frustrating heroine.
Sal’s inability to put things together might have been less frustrating if so much of the novel hadn’t been built around a plot twist that was obvious to the reader from the beginning of the novel. It takes most of the rest of the characters about half of the book to figure this twist out, but it takes Sal until the very end. This is despite the constant, obvious clues throughout her story, as well as the fact that someone actually flat-out explains the situation to her at one point. Aside from the revelation of the twist, I didn’t feel like there was all that much in the way of resolution at the end of the story. This is clearly the first novel of a series, and it mostly sets up the premise and the conflicts that will likely drive the future installments.
My Rating: 2/5
Parasite kicks off a new series, one that has quite a lot of similarities to the previous Newsflesh Trilogy. It is another case of medicine gone wrong, but with parasites instead of a zombie virus. Some of the character types are very familiar from Newsflesh, and I was really not a fan of how science and scientists were portrayed. I found the main character’s situation intriguing, but it took her entirely too long to figure out a plot twist that was clear to readers from the first chapter. The end of the story sets up some interesting conflict for the next novel, but, unless the second novel is also nominated for a Hugo award, I think I may sit this series out.