May 25, 2014
Parasite by Mira Grant
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Mira Grant is one of my favorite authors. I love her Newsflesh trilogy to pieces. This book, the first in a new series, is a near-future medical thriller that takes on the subjects of corporate malfeasance, genetic engineering, and (as seems to be a popular theme with her) just what it means to be human.
This book is about a future corporation, SymboGen, who creates genetically engineered tapeworms (excuse me, "Intestinal Bodyguards", apparently based on the urban legends of people swallowing tapeworms to lose weight), that are pretty much custom-designed miracle cures for whatever ails you. (Although I can't imagine the pharmaceutical industry going along so blithely with basically being put out of business.) The main character is Sally Mitchell, who was in a car accident six years ago, suffered massive brain damage, was declared dead and waiting for her organs to be harvested...and who abruptly woke up. She had to relearn speaking, walking, and interacting with human society all over again. Since her tapeworm apparently refused to let her die, SymboGen took over and is paying for her care, and is watching her (far more than she knows at the beginning). She remembers absolutely nothing about her life before, and is told by her parents and sister that she is a very different person than the Sally Mitchell before the accident. This is a prominent theme in the book, who Sally is and who she wants to be.
Sally, her situation, her boyfriend and family are introduced first, and it takes a little while for the main plot to get rolling. The main plot is a growing plague of people turning into zoned-out, shambling zombies (not classical zombies, nor Newsflesh zombies for that matter) and not coming out of it. At first they're harmless, but then they turn sinister and deadly. It is slowly revealed that SymboGen is at the heart of everything, them and their parasites.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did, and there are many good things about it. I don't know enough about the science of parasitology to say whether or not what's presented here is accurate, but the author has obviously done a helluva lot of research. It sounds extremely plausible, which is all a layperson reader like me can ask for. But while I liked the characters well enough (except for Sally's father, who spent half the book being sympathetic and supportive and the other half being a right bastard), the plot felt extremely paint-by-numbers and telegraphed. As an example (I'll try not to reveal too much), I figured out the Big Plot Twist That Changes Everything about a third of the way through the book, and was getting very impatient when I came to the final pages: "Will you please spring your Big Plot Twist on me already!" Granted, it is earth-shaking, and raises a lot of issues to be explored in the next book, but I shouldn't have cued in on it so early. This is in stark contrast to the really shattering plot twist in Feed (and if you've read that book, you know exactly what I'm talking about), which took brass ones the size of basketballs to pull off, and which literally had me crying as I read.
This book, unfortunately, just doesn't seem to be as good as most of Grant's other stuff. That doesn't mean I won't be reading the next books in the trilogy, but I'll get them from the library. I won't be buying them.
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