Reading a fictionalised account of an outbreak that renders its hosts hopeless is pretty scary when the Ebola virus is the source of decidedly non-fictional headlines. But that’s why Mira Grant‘s ‘Parasite’, the first novel in an intended series (Book 2, ‘Symbiont’ hits UK bookshelves in November), manages to prey on our nightmares like the best horror does – because it’s rooted in reality.
‘Parasite’ may have to contend with the character/world-building exposition that weighs down many a first tome in a trilogy or series, but you can tell Grant is at home here. The ‘Newsflesh’ writer sets her cautionary tale in 2027, where trail-blazing SymboGen have revolutionised modern medicine with a little creation called an Intestinal Bodyguard – a parasite that lives inside its human, keeping them healthy without the need for pills, injections and more. What could possibly go wrong?
If you’ve seen ‘Jurassic Park’, you’ll know that “life finds a way” and Grant’s sci-fi conspiracy thriller with added shuffling zombie types certainly recalls Michael Crichton’s paranoid parables. The action centres around Sally, a twentysomething miracle marvel after SymboGen take the credit when she survives the seemingly insurmountable consequences of a mysterious car accident. Sally is kept under the watchful eye of SymboGen’s co-founder Dr. Banks, all while attempting to traverse a new life away from the girl she was before the accident: a girl she can’t remember. Parasitology expert and long-term boyfriend Nathan Kim provides some respite away from her required return check-ups at SymboGen and a strained domestic life with a family, including a government-employed father, who can still remember the old Sally and seem to be waiting for Sally’s own memories of that girl to return.
Then, of course, shit happens. It’s hard to review this taut, Hugo-nominated page-turner without spoiling the twisty-turny fun, but suffice to say those parasites aren’t exactly the life-saving, world-changing remedy they’ve been made out to be. Excerpts from interviews with Dr. Banks and his MIA former colleague, Shanti Cale, precede each new chapter and help build an impending sense of doom as we reach this first book’s game-changing conclusion. And, above all, it’s fun – the zombie horror and bad science elements don’t get in the way of some biting one-liners and, in Tansy, a third-act character that just screams ‘spin-off’.
So, November – hurry up with your apocalypse! ‘Symbiont’ will be ready to infect, courtesy of Orbit Books, on November 25.