Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Women in Horror: Parasite

In the not so distant future, tapeworms have been genetically modified to keep us healthy: administer drugs, stave off allergies, and cure illnesses. It's called an Intestinal Bodyguard made by SymboGen and it's revolutionized modern medicine. Sal Mitchell is SymboGen's poster child for the helpful parasite after surviving a horrific car crash and being saved from brain death by her Intestinal Bodyguard. She has no memories from before the crash and is a vastly different person from who she used to be. All isn't as idyllic as it seems when the sleepwalking sickness, which causes people to act erratically and violently, starts spreading like wildfire. Sal isn't truly involved until someone sends her coded messages that she could choose to ignore and get some answers about the sickness and her own condition. Should she shatter her worldview and find out the truth or live in blissful ignorance?

I loved Mira Grant's Newsflesh series, so I had to read Parasite. She expertly blends science fact with science fiction with a healthy dose of horror and does an extensive amount of research. For this novel, she even lived with a goat tapeworm in her stomach for months in the name of research to study its effects, which weren't all bad. For instance, allergic reactions and arthritis are lessened by these parasites. Her efforts to base as much of the science in reality makes the novel even more frightening and interesting to read. After reading lots of annoying and lazily written books that have illogical world building, Mira Grant's approach is a breath of fresh air.

Sal used to be Sally Mitchell, known for being rebellious, selfish, and outgoing. That was before the accident when she drove head on into a bus. Now, she only has memories spanning the 6 years since she woke up. She had to relearn everything: how to speak, how to walk, absolutely everything. Sal is much more introverted, literal, and kindhearted than her previous self. Everyone in her life holds on to the hope that she will magically remember her life before the accident and become Sally again. By most people in her life, she's treated as a child at best and a lab experiment at worst. Her parents still have guardianship over her and don't hesitate to exercise it. SymboGen uses her as a poster child for their Intestinal Bodyguard and has her constantly jumping through hoops. Sal has to do a balancing act of doing what she wants but keeping the company happy enough to keep paying for her medical treatment, which is obviously extensive. All of these people actively work to take away her agency and use her for their own ends.

The only people who treat Sal as a human being are those who met her after the accident. Her boyfriend Nathan loves her for who she is, not some bygone memory of who people think she should be. The people at the shelter she works at treat her normally, but she doesn't have many friends or even acquaintances outside of them. When Sal regains her agency and looks for answers, she finds out just how much just about everyone in her life tries to control her and treats her as an object rather than a person. SymboGen takes away her privacy by bugging everything they can get their hands on, forcing her to go to a psychologist she hates, and keeps tabs on her everywhere she goes. Her mother reveals that she doesn't think of Sal as her daughter and, with her father, keeps her in the house with no phone or internet access like a prisoner. The underground group opposing SymboGen may also want to use Sal, but they tell her the truth and give her a choice. Parasite is at its a core a character study, showing Sal's transformation from an ignorant bystander in her life to getting her agency back by making her own decisions and coming to terms with who she really is.

Parasite is a very detailed science fiction and horror novel. The very thought that science created to help humanity can turn and take control of us is frightening, especially when you can't truly tell if someone is themselves or under control of the parasite. Although the idea is similar to the zombies in her Newsflesh series, it's quite different because zombies are incredibly obvious. These beings can only be truly detected through medical scans and are as varied as people. Some have complained that not enough happens in Parasite, but I found it to be well written with good pacing and authentic characters. Not every book has to go down like an action movie. I can't wait for the next and final book in the series and I highly recommend Parasite.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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