- Orbit, 2013
- ISBN 0316218952
In her first foray into the land of zombies (Newsflesh), Grant proposed a scientific reason for zombies that seemed scarily plausible. She did her homework then, and now she's done even more homework. If you haven't heard of the idea that too few parasites are bad for us, you might read up on Helminthic Theory. Yep, sounds legit.
But seriously, there are people looking into the question if there is such a thing as being too clean. Whether this turns out to be anything other than a crackpot notion I have no idea. While I'm not about to start swilling sewer water, it's also true that bacteria compete with each other, even in places like our mouth and our gut, and if not enough of the good or at least harmless bacteria are around, then nasties will take over and wreak havoc.
In Mira Grant's book Parasite (book one of the Parasitology series), Doctors Banks, Cale, and Jablonsky have developed a genemod variety of tapeworm, the Intestinal Guardian (TM), which, if ingested by a human being, will keep the host healthy, supplying drug dosage if needed, and suppressing excessive immune responses like dog or cat allergies. The story's main character, Sally Mitchell, also has one of these tapeworms when she gets into an accident. She's in a coma from brain damage, and her family is about to disconnect her, when she sits up in bed.
As far as anyone knows, the tapeworm will not resurrect you from the dead.
The action catches up with Sally six years later. She has by now relearned to speak. Reading is still very difficult, but from all appearance things are looking up. She even has a boyfriend who cares for her. And then people start getting the sleeping sickness (a lovely euphemism for turning into zombies), and SymboGen, the makers of the tapeworm, seem to be hiding something.
I kind of started suspecting what was going on almost from the beginning - this is a story by Mira Grant, after all. Still, rather than making everything predictable, Grant kept me on the edge of my seat for all five hundred pages. Sally is a recovering amnesiac, and her recovery may strike people who know a little bit about, for example, retraining TBI patients or stroke victims, as if Sally is doing far too well. The mystery ingredient is obviously the tapeworm, but we don't know quite what role it is playing until about halfway into the story (when it's still a mystery to Sally and her friends).
Yes, from that point on you'll probably know what is really going on, and you'll be wondering how Sally and her boyfriend Nathan haven't caught on yet. Well, there are perfectly good reasons, of course. Meanwhile the mere fact that you know will not at all detract from the story.
Grant's story takes place in a near future California. We're not told what all has happened, but a fair amount obviously has. Maybe some of that backstory will be featured in the sequels, but it doesn't really matter. It's a believable version of the future. You will feel right at home, I'm sure.
This is the second of the Hugo nominees I've read. It is definitely a worthy nominee, and I highly recommend it.