Series: Parasitology #1
Published by Orbit on October 29, 2013
Six years ago, Sally Mitchell woke up from a coma with no memory of anything but the hot warm darkand the sound of drums. She did not know what humans were. She did not understand language. She remembered nothing of the seizure that caused her to drive her car into the path of a bus. She had a completely new personality. She was a completely new person.
Sal’s life was saved by an intestinal parasite. Hundreds of thousands of people have a version of the same parasite in them, a parasite genetically modified to fight disease and infection in its host. No one knows how Sal’s parasite managed to wake her from a coma, or why she has no memory and a new personality, or why, for that matter, she is terrified of teeth. But as Sal and her boyfriend try to figure out what is going on, they learn that thousands of people—hosts to parasites—are turning into mindless, violent zombies, and it becomes clear that whatever happened to Sal six years ago is the key to this terrifying global crisis.
It’s weird: There were no surprises for me here, plot-wise, but I wasn’t, ultimately, bothered by my ability to predict what was going to happen. It felt more like the inevitability of a well-plotted story than that of a bad mystery. There were several points where I found myself going crazy with frustration because, “How did he not see the identity of that person coming?” or “Why are they not worried about being overheard?” only to have another character point out how dumb the oblivious character in question is behaving, and I’ve gotta tell you, that’s all I need. I kind of hate that I require a pat on the head letting me know that the author respects my intelligence and that the characters’ mental blocks are a part of the story, but I do. I really, really do.
And speaking of the author, she has a real gift for writing about mass destruction caused by overzealous scientists without preaching an anti-intellectual message. Parasite is a terrifying story of corporate greed, and—as in the Newsflesh trilogy—there isn’t a real bad guy, but you could make a strong case for blaming both the pharmaceutical industry and the government. The scientists who developed the parasite are driven, and the passages where where we first see them explaining, with all the arrogance of gods among men, how they developed the parasites, and later how they reacted as they realized that what they’d created could be a disaster, are absolutely fascinating, and they’re written like real scientific papers and news articles (and I laughed out loud when I saw that one of the articles quoted is from a 2027 issue of Rolling Stone).
And the characters. Sal is an excellent, and super-weird, main character, and her complete memory loss and childlike need to re-learn even the most basic things are a perfect vehicle for exposition. Her trouble with colloquialisms is particularly fun. She (like all the major female characters created by this author, whether she’s writing as Mira Grant or as Seanan McGuire) is sweet and funny and intelligent, and she cannot really be bothered to care overmuch about her looks. That last part is really refreshing. I mean, in a lot of ways Sal is clearly an adult, but in others she is a six-year-old girl, and she regularly wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. Her appearance is the least of her worries.
The rest of the characters feel real, too, but more importantly, they’re also pretty diverse. Sal’s sexy, brilliant parasitologist boyfriend is a short half-Korean guy. Proper Asian male love interests are hard to find, especially in circumstances where their Asian-ness is not a crucial part of the story, and I was excited to see a good one here. Actually, now that I think about it, there are important characters of a variety of different races, and one of the most heart-wrenching sequences in the book occurs between a lesbian couple. The only problem I had with the characters—and the reason I gave this book 4.5 instead of 5 stars—is that some of the quirkier people we meet toward the end of the novel are way too similar to some of the weirdos in the latter Newsflesh books and the October Daye series. I have no problem with an author writing two separate series about zombies created by Big Pharma OR that author re-using character archetypes, but it’s a little bit frustrating when both things happen at the same time, you know?
That aside, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. My friends are sick to death of hearing me talk about it (It’s been months. I was absolutely insufferable at San Diego Comic-Con.), but I cannot shut up because it is so hard to find proper hard science fiction that is also exciting and accessible and really, really funny. Read this book, guys. Seriously.