on 20 January 2014
Review also published on my blog, StudentSpyglass.com
After a car accident that leaves her legally brain-dead, Sally Mitchell becomes the first person ever to be saved by a SymboGen implant. The SymboGen implant (known as the Intestinal Bodyguard) is a modified tapeworm which pulls toxins from the bloodstream, fights off infections and generally keeps everyone healthy without any effort on the part of the human who's had one implanted. With no memory of the girl she was before her accident, Sal has had to relearn everything - how to walk, talk, and most of all, who she is. Six years later, she's still guarded by overprotective parents, and occasionally has to submit for testing at SymboGen, but generally life is good.
Then the `sleepwalking' starts - perfectly normal people seem to hollow out, becoming mindless shells of their former selves. With no explanation as to why the disease occurred, how it's spreading, or who will be next, life just became scary and confusing.
I really enjoyed the format and writing style of Parasite. Each chapter begins with a quote or an excerpt from a book or interview about SymboGen. This is a great touch, as it makes the whole world feel more believable, whilst also helping you form opinions of characters who begin to feel three-dimensional even before you meet them.
One of my favourite things about Parasite is that there was some actual science behind the plot. I'm by no means an expert on tapeworms, but we had to study them as part of my degree, and I'm really glad Mira Grant seemed to have done her research! There was just enough science to keep my brain ticking over, and to make the plot seem believable, without feeling either patronising or dry.
Sal is an interesting character. There were times when she was frustrating, but most of the time I liked her. Curious and intelligent, Sal slowly becomes more feisty throughout the novel, and she's both protective and loyal to those important to her. She already has a boyfriend, so there isn't a huge romance in this (or a love triangle!), which is refreshing. I also loved the supporting cast, including Sal's boyfriend Nathan, a truly loveable dog named Beverly, and the unhinged seeming Tansy.
The plot is gripping and full of twists. There was one twist that I personally thought was quite predictable, but there were plenty of other ups and downs to keep me hooked. I've recommended Parasite a lot since finishing it, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. This was my first Mira Grant book, and it led to a binging of her other books!
Re-reading this book after a few years rekindled the gut theories that now are popular with evidence-based background. The forward to 'Parasite' refers to 'fringe science' in the late 1980's, ignoring people who were developing 'life-threatening allergies and autoimmune conditions... due to lack of allergens, bacteria, even parasites'. The balance to maintain an equilibrium between the gut, biological and neurological disorders are explicitly described. This is the opening of a fictional account of Sally Mitchell, a 20 year old dying on a life-support machine, legally dead after a road traffic accident. A gut parasite (Diphyllobothrium - a common world-wide tape-worm), marketed as 'SymboGen' has remarkable properties. It has been modified scientifically to not only secrete 'miracle' chemicals but can be manipulated to deliver drugs with a health and potential financial bonanza. Sally Mitchell recovers. Her memory does not. The story of her rehabilitation is fascinating.
The narrative delves into the processes of physical and mental recovery that are stirring. The genetic manipulation of the gut parasite has devastating effects when released on the population as a panacea for illness just by popping a pill. Marvellous, but Mira Grant delivers a grim account in her narrative of how a scientific marvel can have catastrophic effects through the doctors, scientists and the affected. The morals and ethics smell as much as the financial rewards.
This is an excellent and topical novel. It is part fact and fiction. I mention the former as drugs and other agents are currently being investigated and delivered by genetically modified viruses and bacteria. An intriguing read. I look forward to reading the second part.
It’s July 2027. Over the last 12 years people have increasingly chosen to have a SymboGen parasite inserted into them to help monitor and control their health. SymboGen’s genetically engineered parasite can boost the immune system, be used to control drug delivery into the body and even result in bodily improvements. Sally Mitchell was one of SymboGen’s early success cases – 6 years ago they inserted a parasite into her after a serious car crash left her close to death with serious head and bodily injuries. It gave her a new life but the price was to bind her to SymboGen for their research. She has to submit to psychological and physiological tests to assess how the parasite is working and due to the severity of her injuries, her parents have legal guardianship over her affairs, controlling what she can and cannot do. Her only solace is in her boyfriend, Nathan, a doctor at the local hospital who supports her attempts at independence.
Then people suddenly start coming down with what’s termed sleepwalking sickness. They lose control of their bodies, wandering off and even attacking other people. Sally and Nathan become convinced that there’s a link to SymboGen’s parasites but their investigation leads to a shadowy conspiracy and a truth that’s more shocking than they could possibly imagine …
Having really enjoyed Mira Grant’s NEWSFLESH TRILOGY, I was looking forward to reading the first of a new horror trilogy that riffs on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Grant has clearly done her research on parasites and creates a plausible scenario where people would willingly agree to implantation but this is a curiously flat piece with a lot of set-up and not a lot of tension. The main problem is in Sally herself – an unconfident woman who’s effectively learning to live again – she’s incredibly slow to pick up on things that the reader has already guessed and spends a lot of time running around asking obvious questions and being a target for others. I didn’t care about her relationship with Nathan (who’s too good to be true) and the conspiracy elements are ham-fisted. SymboGen also comes across as a generic evil corporation – so much so that I really didn’t believe it and it’s not helped by the fact that Steven Banks is a two-dimensional character. Ultimately the end result simply didn’t excite me and I’m not sure I’ll read the sequel.
on 6 January 2014
Another great book by Mira Grant and a strange yet interesting take of the future. The way in which her books are written including 'Parasite' makes you feel as if the story is real and that anything is possible. The characters are likeable and I have grown attached to them. The science behind the storyline and the obvious amount of research that has been put into this book is amazing, it helps to not only understand the characters better but develops the story into something I haven't found with any other book or author. I cant wait for a second volume, this book seems to be the beginning of an exciting series.
on 7 September 2014
In the hands of a great SF writer this could have been a great book. Unfortunately Mira Grant isn't that writer. The dialogue seems to have only two modes: either very annoying endless wisecracks, or the protagonist helplessly bawling "Won't somebody tell me what's going ON?!" or similar. It reads like a cliché zombie movie. And the "big reveal" at the end about the main character could be seen coming from miles away. It seems this book was a candidatie for the Hugo Award. Unbelievable.
on 4 May 2015
As Mira Grant's books go, this one is definitely slower paced. It does have the feel of a set up for the next book rather than standing alone which I think accounts for some of it. On the other hand I still found it sufficiently engaging that I didn't mind that it wasn't going anywhere fast - I was happy to go along for the ride. And what a set up it is; I was put in mind of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds except in this case the invasion is coming from within.
Under the lowering shadow of the faintly paternal and obscurely threatening Symbogen, Sal Mitchell is just not improving any further after a car accident six years ago killed her but the Symbogen engineered intestinal bodyguard saved her life. She has no memories of the life she led before the car accident and in a very real sense has been learning to be herself for the last six years.What Sal doesn't know, what she can't let herself know, is why. And how does this make her so important to both sides in an upcoming war? When the battle lines are drawn, which side will she stand on?
Anyone who has read any science fiction is going to figure out in about twelve pages what the big plot twist is. On the other hand I think it was never intended to be a big twist; the conflict in this first book is on a small scale - Sal vs herself. Sal vs Symbogen and her loving but controlling parents , then later Sal vs the sleeping sickness which may have something to do with symbogen implants. As a confused character who has not had a lifetime to learn social mores and niceties (and therefore doubts that she is behaving appropriately, ceding control to others) Sal is sympathetic and well depicted. Yet she does have agency. She is frightened on an instinctual level and while she doesn't have the polish of some female characters or the hard carapace of others, she does have a well of her own strength which she draws on. I suppose if I had a niggle about her character it would be the 'I don't understand the science' aspect. But then as a former scientist I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn't understand the science so perhaps that is personal bias.
This is the beginning of the end; the dawn before the apocalypse. Don't expect big portents or lights in the sky, but there will be signs. I am looking forward to reading book two and very glad that book three is out later this year.
Sally `Sal' Mitchell owes her life to an Intestinal Bodyguard(tm), 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.
on 11 April 2014
This review was originally published in issue #250 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.
What makes the tin-hat brigade of paranoids scarier? When they know what they’re talking about, seemingly.
I haven’t read any of Mira Grant’s other novels, but the spiel attached to “Parasite” establishes her as more than qualified to comment on matters of biotechnology, pharmacology and ethics.
The novel follows Sal, who was Sally until a car accident left her a complete amnesiac. In a world where almost everybody has genetically-engineered tapeworms inside them boosting their immune system, Sal’s worm having helped her survive apparent brain death makes her a medical marvel and minor celebrity. This places Sal at the epicentre of the events that unfold, all linked to tapeworm firm SymboGen.
The fact that SymboGen is evil is apparent from the beginning. Grant, presumably, decided that no one would be at all fooled by this fact, so the introductory prologues make it abundantly clear.
The manner of the evil, however is not obvious. Not until about midway through the book, at least. And therein lay the problem I found with “Parasite”.
The writing itself was excellent. Light and quick paced, it guided the reader through what are complicated and difficult subjects with a confident ease. Similarly, the characters are believable and – for the most part – sympathetic.
But the big twist at the end wasn’t nearly as surprising as it thought it was. I figured that part out by about the midway mark and was from there on growing gradually more and more frustrated with the novel’s refusal to show its hand.
Part of that, I suspect, is down to the trilogy format. In the same style as Eastenders, it wanted to end on a shocking moment. And so at least once deliberately stalled for time on that point.
Which was, as I say, a little frustrating.
I had the feeling that there was space here, if the stalling for time and backtracking could be cut down, for more of the story to be told within the one volume. Maybe all of it.
The reason that I make the point is that I enjoyed “Parasite”. I did find the story exciting, and it was something I wanted to read more. But like with an ITV drama, I kept having to wait to get back to it.
Which shouldn’t, honestly, be allowed to subtract from the fact that this is an easily readable and enjoyable novel. It is a science-run-amok story in the vein of Frankenstein, wherein the question is not how much is science capable of, but how far should it go. The ethical ramifications of scientific advances, particularly in biology, are far from a new subject, but Grant handles them deftly, and she does so in an entertaining and exciting way. There are very few people who would be able to read “Parasite” and not come away having learnt something.
on 4 December 2013
Let me just start by saying I had really high hopes for this book. I first saw it featured on a blog I trust at the start of the year. I thought the concept sounded amazing and unique. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. The publisher was kind enough to send it to me a few days before it came out and I started it immediately. I was not disappointed!
Parasite is the story of Sal, a woman who is in a car accident and declared legally brain dead. When her family is about to pull the plug on the machines keeping her alive, she suddenly wakes up. All thanks to the SymboGen parasite. In the future in this book most people are fitted with an intestinal parasite which helps with a range of health problems such as allergies. It basically means no more taking so many pills just to survive day to day. Unfortunately she has no memory of anything before waking up. The book jumps ahead six years, and Sal can now walk and talk just like before. Only she is a different person completely, as she has no memories of her old self.
In the book we first see the "sleeping sickness" while Sal is shopping at the mall. The "sleeping sickness" is basically people acting like zombies. The reason behind this is pretty obvious if you've read the blurb, the parasites are taking over their hosts' body. Quite a lot of the book is taken up with the protagonist trying to figure out what's going on and why people are starting to act this way. Though it's quite obvious to the reader, I don't feel like this took away from the story at all.
My favourite part of the whole reading experience is Grant's ability to build horror gradually. I'm not one to read horror or thriller novels regularly. The only horror I can be said to read is zombie novels (got to love a good zombie story). But the scary scenes in this novel were done so well! No jump-y moments (hope that makes sense!). It was very much a gradual build to being scared, which left me screaming "shut the freaking door" at the book. I found this to be very effective and there were quite a few scenes that left me with goose bumps.
As I said above, I love zombie stories, and I think that was one of the reasons I loved this book so much. It wasn't an outright zombie novel, but it did have a few of the elements of a good zombie story. To me it seemed like the absolute start of a zombie novel done really well. There was no sudden "oh god, run for your life!" It was very much people seeing other people acting in a strange way and thinking they were sick and then pretty much going on with their daily lives. Even though you suspect where this series is going to go with the whole zombie-like apocalypse, you still see where the people seeing what is happening in the story come from. So what, you see a few people acting like zombies walking down the street, what are you supposed to do? Quit your job and find a cabin in the mountains to hide away in? Or dismiss it as a fluke that could never affect you and go about your business as usual. I found this aspect of the story to be so interesting and I can't wait to see where the rest of the series goes with this.
I won't take the time to comment on the characters, because this is primarily a plot driven story. As much as I liked and disliked some characters, for me the plot is what makes this book so good.
Parasite is quite a slow paced novel, except for a few key scenes that make this book as good as it is.
I would definitely recommend this novel for anybody who loves a good zombie novel, or a slow building horror.
on 4 December 2013
First of all, I thought this was YA and it's not - not even the slightest bit. The main character is Sally, who is a full 26 years of age which was a pleasant change. Admittedly she only remembers the last six years since a terrible accident wiped her memory, but having a card-carrying adult as a protagonist is necessary for the science-based and occasionally shocking plot.
The basic gist is that a huge company called SymboGen have developed an 'Intestinal Bodyguard,' which is essentially a genetically modified tapeworm that lives inside you and protects you from illness, allergies, etc. Sally had an almost fatal car accident years ago, but recovered just minutes before her family was due to turn off her life support, thanks to her Intestinal Bodyguard. Now there's a 'Sleeping Sickness' epidemic, where hundreds of people are losing all mental capacity and their implants suddenly aren't working. What could be behind the new illness and why are SymboGen so interested in Sally?
I actually went and looked into whether Mira Grant (real name: Seanan McGuire) had a background in science, because the theories expounded here actually make sense. I'm not about to imbibe a tapeworm, obviously, but the references to the 'hygiene hypothesis,' various parasites and genome splicing indicate a huge amount of research and care. A book doesn't have to be 'possible' for me to enjoy it, but I do like it when your imagination doesn't have to struggle to picture it.
I was hooked from the beginning. Parasite begins with a transcript of a recording made of scientific trials of the Intestinal Bodyguard - the first success caught on tape. After that, in between every chapter there's a newspaper article, interview, textbook excerpt, something, about the history of SymboGen and the development of the project. It may seem gimmicky in other books, but here it worked very well. It's worthwhile paying attention to these as what you've learned there ties in perfectly with the plot later on. The intricacies of the detailed story could be lost without this knowledge.
The characters are also pretty much perfect. Sally is slightly naive, but then again she's technically only six years old. Having said that, she doesn't fall into any of the usual traps - she doesn't withhold information from the authorities for no reason, she doesn't fall head-over-heels in love with a horrible man at first sight and she doesn't decide she can deal with the whole thing herself, despite it having nothing to do with her.
All the characters' decisions are rational and well thought out. There were times when I shook my head at what I thought was a silly twist or lazy writing... only for it to be either a) not what I thought or b) explained so well and so logically that it ended up making perfect sense. Parasite is as far from lazy writing as you can possibly imagine - every plothole, every doubt, every niggle is closed and I cannot think of a single fault with the story.
The only thing that irritated me was a tiny, tiny thing. Sally is terrified of cars, as you can imagine you would be after a near fatal accident. Unfortunately it's just way over the top - she turns into a sniffling, whiny mess when anybody so much as glances at her while they're driving. 'How could they do that to me!?' Aside from anything else, Sally, you were driving when you had your crash. You. So shut up. Like I said though, small point, and otherwise she's a respectable heroine.
The relationships also work very well. Sally already has a long-standing boyfriend when we jump into the story, so it's a pleasant change not to bother setting up a new romantic interest. Their relationship is a factor, but it's more of a sub-sub-plot. He supports Sally when she needs it and plays a large part in the story in his own right, but he never bullies her or resents her. A good love interest, all told.
What's more complex is Sally's relationship with her parents and sister and it's done... you guessed it, perfectly. There are an awful lot of issues regarding Sally's accident and how her personality has changed, and Mira Grant doesn't shove them under the carpet. The resentment and tension are felt very subtly to begin with, but then it builds gradually until it's an unavoidable situation. Perfect.
The ending is slightly predictable, but like I mentioned before, it's so well done and so... perfect that it really doesn't matter. it's the journey that's important, not the destination. I was a little frustrated because I hadn't realised that this was going to be a series and now I won't get to find out what happens for practically forever. Points to the author though - there is a dramatic conclusion, but no obvious give-me-your-money cliffhanger. Like I said, no lazy writing here!
So. Perfect. This book is perfect. I do wish the blurb had been phrased differently as it did take away the mystery of what was causing the sleeping sickness, but I understand that isn't the author's fault. It was interesting watching the characters figure it out, but maybe it would have been better to learn along with them. But hey ho.
Parasite is a book that will capture your full attention and not let you go until you've turned the last page. It's not some silly little zombie book - it's a complete and well thought out story that's, dare I say it, perfect.