Parasite by Mira Grant
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.
Sally ‘Sal’ Mitchell owes her life to an Intestinal Bodyguard™, a parasite that has allowed her to recover from a massively traumatic car accident. Without this medical miracle there is no way that Sal would have survived the severe injuries she sustained. Six years after the event and Sally has had to re-learn everything. Her life before the accident is gone, her memories a total blank. I was surprised how much this particular element of the story struck a chord with me. I’ve been in a very similar situation to Sal, minus the tapeworm I’m pleased to say, and I often ponder the person I was before my accident. Ms Grant perfectly captures the introspective elements of Sal’s personality. Just think about the implications of such a life-changing event for a moment. Imagine you had to start your life again. Could you really be considered the same person you were first time round?
The other real standout is a character is called Tansy. She is the antithesis of Sal and her unpredictable attitude towards, well frankly, everything make her a great deal of fun. I could quite happily read an entire novel featuring just Tansy kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Grant’s writing always features wonderfully realized characters, particularly the female ones, and Parasite is no exception.
The premise of a parasite living in a symbiotic relationship with its host is a fascinating idea. I, like millions of other people across the planet, rely on daily medication in tablet form to control a condition I suffer from. I’d love to be able to stop doing that, but could I when the only alternative would be an animal living in my intestines? I just don’t think I could! The idea of doing something like that freaks me out a bit. I suspect this is Mira Grant’s intent all along. Not just to engage the reader with an engrossing narrative, as this most definitely is, but also to ask some thought provoking questions. Should humanity be tampering so fundamentally with our basic genetic makeup just because we can? Is scientific progress just for its own sake a truly worthy endeavour, or are scientists just getting caught up in their own hubris?
There is a growing apocalyptic tone to the story as the parasites begin to exert their control over their hosts. Think something akin to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you’ll be heading in the right direction. That same palpable feeling of paranoia certainly exists. Sal quickly learns that just because you think they are all out to get you doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t true. Everyone considers her case very special but no one is willing to tell her why. Her parents, her boyfriend and owners of SymboGen all have their own agenda. The big question is who can she actually trust?
With her last series, the Newsflesh novels, Mira Grant injected new life, excuse the pun, into the zombie genre. She’s done the same thing here with Parasite. Who would have thought I could get so caught up in a story that ponders everything from the political and socio-economic implications of modern medicine as a big business, to the understanding the nature of the self.
Existing in a unique space somewhere between medical thriller, psychological science fiction and body horror, Parasite is a properly chilling read. The story starts slowly but Grant knows which emotive buttons she wants to press and gradually ramps up the tension with each new chapter. Things end on a suitably suspenseful cliffhanger. I’m looking forward to the next book in the Parasitology series already.
Parasite is published by Orbit and is available from 29th October 2013.