Title: Parasite (Parasitology Volume One)
Author: Mira Grant
No. of Pages: 512
Genre: Science Fiction; Horror
Origins: Orbit Books
Release Date: 29 October 2013
Bottom Line: Thrilling, creepy, and oh-so-fabulous
“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 Intestinal Bodyguard worm 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.”
Thoughts: The idea of tapeworms being something people would ingest voluntarily ingest seems about as foreign a concept as teleporting or wormholes in space. Still, Ms. Grant does an excellent job in creating not only a possible scenario but also the marketing scheme behind the Intestinal Bodyguard. There is logic behind her world-building that removes some of the ick factor and rationalizes the concept of society accepting parasites as helpers. Still, the book is about something most people try to avoid at all costs and which can turn stomachs at the mere mention of them. As such, Parasite is simultaneously intriguing in its possibilities and horrific because of what it implies. Squeamish readers should approach with caution.
If one can get past the whole parasitic worm issue, the rest of the story is intense, fascinating, and still quite horrifying. Readers immediately bond with Sal, a woman who lost her entire life’s memories after a horrific accident, something from which she should have never recovered had it not been for her very own Intestinal Bodyguard. The action takes place six years after she wakes from her coma. She is still struggling to find her place in this unfamiliar world – a world in which her parents consider her a six-year-old trapped in the body of a twenty-something woman and more importantly a life about which she does not remember a single thing from before her accident. Her frustrations at the limitations imposed by both her parents and by SymboGen Corporation, who is funding all of her health care, at the limitations implied by her lack of memories, and at her desire for independence all create a very solid sympathetic link within the reader as one quickly realizes that she is stronger and more capable than anyone credits her for being.
Then there is her boyfriend. Dr. Nathan Kim is the foremost expert in parasitology, but it is obvious from the very start that his relationship with Sal has nothing to do with her unique situation and has everything to do with genuine love and affection. Theirs is a very special relationship, and their loving moments will make a reader’s heart ache with tenderness. Their strong bond is vital as the story progresses, balancing out the less positive relationships she has with others and a welcome oasis in a rather disgusting world.
The action starts out slowly but swiftly builds. As Sal learns whom to trust and whom to avoid, so does the reader, with many a twist and turn added to throw readers off the scent. There is a reveal at the end that is not altogether as shocking as one would expect it to be. Rather, it adds an entirely new twist to the series and sets the stage for an entirely new set of ethical questions. Ms. Grant’s use of science to explain the hows and whys of the Intestinal Bodyguard makes the science fiction portion of the story easy to understand and surprisingly believable. The ethical quandaries posed by SymboGen, the mysterious attacks and the whole parasitic bodyguard idea are enormous, especially given the fact that Ms. Grant has taken such care to establish a fully-developed world that appears reasonable.
Parasite means to shock, to disgust, to question, and to challenge. Sal is a fantastic character; her lack of memory allows her to approach the world from a very different angle, and she has the most wonderful tendency to whittle down scenes to their most essential parts, ignoring the emotional entanglement that causes others to act irrationally. She is a fierce girl when she needs to be and yet still incredibly fragile given everything she does not know. The moral and ethical dilemmas introduced by the answers she finds are extremely relevant and worth the time taken to at least think about them if not debate them with others. At times disgusting, always suspenseful, and utterly unique, Parasite gets under a reader’s skin and will make them question the true meaning of being human.