Mira Grant has been nominated for the Hugo Awards twice before with her novels Feed and Deadline, but has yet to win the grand prize. So, will Parasite be the book that earns her the win? Well, to be honest, no. Parasite is a fun enough read, but there's nothing groundbreaking or inventive about it, and its merits are marred by its predictability and unsatisfying conclusion.
Six years ago, Sal was in a horrific car accident, leaving her brain dead. Miraculously, just before the doctors were ready to pull the plug on her, she woke up, with no memory of her past life, no trace of her previous personality, and no recollection of how to speak or walk or anything. Experts believe that her life was saved by her medical parasite, a tapeworm genetically engineered to provide potentially life-saving support to its human host. Since then, Sal has been supported and experimented on by the pharma company that produces the tapeworms, and has been trying to get on with her life.
But then the tapeworms start turning people into zombies.
They're not called zombies in the book, of course, but Parasite is very much a zombie outbreak novel with a twist on the cause. People lose their minds. They stare blankly, and amble along, and eventually start eating flesh. All we're missing is a cry for "braaaaiiiins," and even that is included more subtly in the plot along the way.
The tapeworm-zombies do lead to some terrifying zombie apocalypse scenes, and there's a lot of other horror elements in here to enjoy, from human experimentation to shades of Doctor Frankenstein. And as the situation gets more and more dire, Sal's race to figure out what the hell is happening and how she can stop it is compelling.
But it's also obvious. Really, really obvious. It's obvious what's going on. It's obvious what's happening to Sal. It's obvious what the final "shock twist" will be about 50 pages in. And the obviousness just makes it all feel too neat, too predictable. How can horror be scary if we know the answers several hundred pages before they come up?
Worse, the "shock twist" is the only resolution we get in the book. Parasite is the first in a trilogy, and it really doesn't stand alone. Book 1 is basically characters figuring out what's going on, with the assumption that most of the action will come later. But having characters reach a conclusion doesn't really make for a satisfying plotline. If I read a 500 page novel, I want to feel like I've got somewhere by the end of it, but I kind of felt like I'd just been dawdling up to the start line. If the other books in the series were out, I might feel differently, but as it stands, I just walked away from the book with a strong feeling of dissatisfaction.
Of course, there's a lot to commend Parasite from a feminist fiction perspective. Diversity is the name of the game. A female protagonist, female friendship, casual inclusion of gay marriage and a bisexual character and lots of racial diversity... it really can't be faulted there. But unfortunately, the plot just doesn't measure up.
Parasite is an enjoyable light read, as long as you don't expect too much from it... and as long as you don't mind that no resolution is currently in sight.