It's not often that I feel moved to abandon a book altogether, but it's even less often that I push myself to get to the end of a novel only to really wish I hadn't wasted my time. I had heard great things about Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, and when I saw Parasite pop up as a 'Read Now' on Netgalley, I thought I'd give it a go. The dystopian sci-fi premise with a medical twist sounded right up my street. Unfortunately it turned out to be one of the worst reading experiences I've had in a good while.
Sal, previously Sally, sustained a severe head injury in a car crash that was very nearly fatal. But just when everyone thought that hope was lost, she reawakened, and all thanks to her SymboGen tapeworm. She was left with no memory at all of her old life, but unquestionably owes everything to the team at SymboGen and falls into the role of their international poster girl, an advertisement of everything parasites can achieve. But she slowly develops a creeping suspicion that these parasites aren't the panacea they first seem to be...
The premise of this is really great and has the potential to raise all kinds of wider issues and questions that could be so interesting to read about. I got excited about it just reading the blurb. What does it mean for society if parasites stop people from getting ill any more? Are people living longer, are there overpopulation issues, will natural resources begin to get stretched? How about the ethics involved in this two-tier system where those who can pay SymboGen for parasites don't get sick, but those who can't afford it are left to their own devices? Unfortunately, Grant doesn't even begin to explore any of this and the plot is really quite basic. The idea is excellent but I didn't think it was very well-executed.
There is some reasonably sound science behind the book, in particular when Grant discusses the genetics of the tapeworms and how they can go wrong. But unfortunately I never really grasped what they were supposed to do in the first place and how they could possibly work as a cure-all implant. It didn't seem to be properly explained. This made it really difficult for me to suspend my disbelief later on. And it is certainly necessary to suspend a whole lot of disbelief. Sal's story made no sense to me - we are told about her accident six years earlier, and how she awoke a completely new person, having to even learn to speak and write English from scratch. But then here she is, having sex with her doctor boyfriend and discussing the intricacies of gene splicing. I found it all completely implausible, and to make matters worse she is a fairly bland character who I couldn't engage with at all.
I had my suspicions of what was afoot right from the beginning, but persevered thinking there would be some twist in the tale that I hadn't foreseen. There wasn't. I don't see how even the most half-hearted reader could fail to predict the conclusion. You probably don't even have to start reading the book - just five minutes musing over the premise will get you there. If you've got a tapeworm wriggling around inside you, a tiny little worm, how might it possibly decide to go about causing you serious harm? What's the most sinister thing it could do living there inside your body? If you think you've got the answer, you probably have.
So, this book wasn't for me, but based on the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon lots of other people seem to have enjoyed it! I have really tried to give an honest review and remain grateful to Orbit Books for the opportunity to try Grant's work.