I had been wanting to read a Mira Grant novel for a while, ever since she made a bit of a name for herself with the Newsflesh trilogy (Feed/Deadline/Blackout), so when I got the chance to read an advance copy of Parasite I jumped at it. Parasite is the first book in a new trilogy, aptly named Parasitology, with the second novel tentatively scheduled for November of 2014 (no word yet on the third). I think this novel is being touted as horror, but for me it fell far more firmly into the sci-fi/thriller genres, really because I didn’t find it scary at all, but I’ll get into that a bit further down.
Set in the near future, only about fourteen years away, the parasite for which the novel is named is actually a hybrid intestinal tapeworm (D. symbogenesis) introduced into the human digestive tract in order to prevent, cure, and regulate a whole host of diseases that have been plaguing humans. The tapeworm, genetically engineered by the big bad corporation of our story, SymboGen, can do everything from correct your allergies to dogs, to regulating medication from within your intestine, to help fix major organ damage after an accident. It’s the wonder of medical technology, and very large swaths of the human population have willingly ingested the tapeworm in order to make their lives easier.
That is, until people with the tapeworm start coming down with “sleeping sickness”, the platitudinous name of a set of symptoms that involve complete cessation of motor control, speech, and rational thinking. That is, of course, until they start getting violent and attacking people.
Dun, dun, DUNNN (that was the scary dramatic horror music).
This kind of book sounded right up my alley. I love horror, I love parasites and gross medical-type things, and I’m always desperate to find horror novels I really love (because I find so many of them completely derivative, or just badly written, or both!).
Unfortunately, I can’t say Parasite checked the box for me in the “well-written” or “original” departments. Not to say this novel is really, really bad, I just didn’t find it very good. It reminded me a lot of The Crazies in some respects (that’s the original Romero movie, not that crappy remake which was crappy), and if you’re going to write a book that is really quite close to the present day, please, please get some of your scientific bits right in the story. I’m a big believer in the suspension of disbelief, and when I read sci-fi, everything absolutely does not have to be scientifically accurate. I will happily take a healthy dose of psuedo-science if written right. But when writing something so close to present day, which isn’t being written as alternate history, there’s some basic stuff you have to get right. There’s also stuff that was just wrong that really had absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever.
While I was reading this book I was constantly reminded that I was reading it. Meaning, the awkward wording, or slow pacing, or scientific inaccuracy that would rip me right out of the narrative. I can always tell how into a book I am, because the more I’m loving it, the less little notes I’m scribbling down. Parasite has a lot of notes.
Example: Grant spends about five pages talking about carnivorous plants, and while I’m sure this was an attempt at very clunky symbolism, as an avid gardener and carnivorous plant junkie, stuff was just wrong (like venus fly traps eating meat). It’s not hard to double check your homework and make sure that stuff you’re writing somewhat extensively about is correct. Hell phone up somebody from the local carnivorous plant society. Send an email to somebody at a university that specializes in them. Call a greenhouse that has a really good selection, at least one person there will know what they’re talking about. That kind of stuff really isn’t hard to get right.
I could even get over the leaps of faith I had to make while she was building D. symbogenesis (like a tapeworm being able to manufacture medications within itself and then excreting it into its host), but there were lots of instances of little things that didn’t make sense, not within the story and world Grant used for this story.
At one point, Grant writes that a dead body has zero-risk of being contaminated by anything. As if decaying flesh doesn’t have lots of microbial action going on. That’s just ridiculous. A decaying corpse has all sorts of squirmy bacteria and invertebrates doing the decomposition dance. Something like that is really easy to check.
I know, I know, I sound like some insufferable a-hole that’s picking apart bits within the book rather than looking at it at a whole. Wait, I have more.
Over the past year or so (maybe because I’ve been reading more review copies of books) I’ve come to realize that a real sticking point for me is a narrator with an inconsistent voice, and Sally Mitchell – the main character in Parasite, whose viewpoint we see through for the whole story, is wildly inconsistent, and I’m not convinced that was purposefully so. Sally was the subject essentially resurrected from brain death after an accident, thanks to her D. symbogenesis implant, and in order to have her extensive medical bills covered, the family agrees to have all costs covered by SymboGen on the caveat that they get to track her progress. Six years after waking up, she’s still undertaking routine medical tests, which she bemoans endlessly. However, when she actually goes in for said medical tests, she finds them so relaxing she actually falls asleep during things like blood tests and ultrasounds. That is inconsistent.
I also find Sally Mitchell to be an extremely weak person, constantly complaining, yet unwilling to do much about her situation. In fact, it’s a good halfway through the book until she finally even speaks her mind out loud, an attribute which I found entirely irritating.
While I get that she is unsure of herself because she feels new in the world – having complete amnesia before the accident – six years on after waking up seems like more than enough time to get a hold of yourself and trust when something feels wrong enough to warrant any kind of action on her part. She’s more insufferable because her inaction, than sympathetic because of her lack of assuredness in herself.
There were also parts of the book that I found repetitive and redundant. Sally Mitchell is plagued by “drumming” in her ears – her heartbeat when her blood pressure starts to rise thanks to stress or anger, or apparently almost anything. It seems like every five or so pages the reader is treated to a description of the pounding in her ears. We’re also treated excessively to her dreams of the “hot warm dark” and a rather silly description of the difference between “hot” and “warm”.
Besides my general distaste for the main character, it’s really a bunch of little things that perturbed me enough through the read that I kept being yanked out of the story in order to roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion. Redundant over-explanations also abounded of medical procedures that Sally undergoes, and they lacked any sort of interest or furthering of the story, only serving to effectively slow the story down.
Which was my additional big-problem with this book: for a horror/thriller it’s extremely slow moving, with very little either internal or external action. It felt like Grant was commissioned to write another trilogy, and instead of thinking up a longer story that warranted such, she drew out a one-novel story into three. The ending of this book was predictable, and I saw it coming from far off, and while that doesn’t bother me in and of itself, the journey still has to be good. This one lacked any real interest for me as the story was so slow and repetitive throughout. The characters came off as rather stupid for not jumping on the wagon and figuring it all out a little sooner.
Having said all that, there are a few snippets in this book where there is some action taking place, and the descriptions of these are extremely effective and engaging. Grant can write, that’s evident by these sections, so I’m not sure why the rest of the book failed so miserably for me. For that reason alone I’m giving the book 2.5 stars – middle of the road, and I’m sure some people will enjoy it more than I did, there were just too many things wrong with it for me to overlook any one of those things.
I’m still out on whether I’ll read Symbiont, the second book in the series. Perhaps in a year I’ll want to give it all another go, but at this point Parasite didn’t hold enough interest for me in order to warrant continuing on with the series.
Parasite will be released on October 29, 2013