“Parasite” by Mira Grant – A Review

parasite by mira grant(Orbit, 512pp, pb £7.99 eb £4.99)

This review was originally published in issue #250 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

What makes the tin-hat brigade of paranoids scarier? When they know what they’re talking about, seemingly.

I haven’t read any of Mira Grant’s other novels, but the spiel attached to “Parasite” establishes her as more than qualified to comment on matters of biotechnology, pharmacology and ethics.

The novel follows Sal, who was Sally until a car accident left her a complete amnesiac. In a world where almost everybody has genetically-engineered tapeworms inside them boosting their immune system, Sal’s worm having helped her survive apparent brain death makes her a medical marvel and minor celebrity. This places Sal at the epicentre of the events that unfold, all linked to tapeworm firm SymboGen.

The fact that SymboGen is evil is apparent from the beginning. Grant, presumably, decided that no one would be at all fooled by this fact, so the introductory prologues make it abundantly clear.

The manner of the evil, however is not obvious. Not until about midway through the book, at least. And therein lay the problem I found with “Parasite”.

The writing itself was excellent. Light and quick paced, it guided the reader through what are complicated and difficult subjects with a confident ease. Similarly, the characters are believable and – for the most part – sympathetic.

But the big twist at the end wasn’t nearly as surprising as it thought it was. I figured that part out by about the midway mark and was from there on growing gradually more and more frustrated with the novel’s refusal to show its hand.

Part of that, I suspect, is down to the trilogy format. In the same style as Eastenders, it wanted to end on a shocking moment. And so at least once deliberately stalled for time on that point.

Which was, as I say, a little frustrating.

I had the feeling that there was space here, if the stalling for time and backtracking could be cut down, for more of the story to be told within the one volume. Maybe all of it.

The reason that I make the point is that I enjoyed “Parasite”. I did find the story exciting, and it was something I wanted to read more. But like with an ITV drama, I kept having to wait to get back to it.

Which shouldn’t, honestly, be allowed to subtract from the fact that this is an easily readable and enjoyable novel. It is a science-run-amok story in the vein of Frankenstein, wherein the question is not how much is science capable of, but how far should it go. The ethical ramifications of scientific advances, particularly in biology, are far from a new subject, but Grant handles them deftly, and she does so in an entertaining and exciting way. There are very few people who would be able to read “Parasite” and not come away having learnt something.

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