Sunday, May 20, 2007

Parasite Positive – review

Author: Scott Westerfeld

First Published; 2007 (UK)

Contains spoilers

Synchronicity is a strange and wondrous thing. A very short while ago regular reader Crabstix contacted me and told me of a certain parasite whose life-chain moves between rats, cats and humans. It makes rats seek out cats, and it makes humans like cats. Think of the possibility, he said, for a vampire novel, a parasite that changes people into vampires as a way of moving through its life-chain. Unfortunately for Crabstix, as it was a damn fine idea, Scott Westerfeld also had an identical concept for a novel. That novel is called Parasite Positive. I say again, synchronicity is a strange and wondrous thing.

Meet Cal Thompson, straight out of Texas and into college in New York. Wide-eyed, innocent and horny he meets a girl named Morgan and sleeps with her. Unfortunately she was infected and passed a parasite on to him. He is now infected.

Luckily for Cal he is one in one-hundred, a carrier. The parasite has improved his senses, made his metabolism run high and crave red-meat so much that it appears he is on a hyper-Atkins diet, given him night vision and increased strength and made him very, very horny. It has not turned him into a cannibalistic killer as it does with the other ninety nine in one-hundred parasite positives (or peeps). He has been found by a shadowy organisation named the night watch (okay I wasn’t too sure about using that name either) and now he hunts peeps, starting with the girls he infected.

What if the parasite seemed to be evolving, however? How will that change the world, especially when Cal has to deal with Lace, a young journalism student who becomes embroiled in his investigation, who is just his type and who he must try to leave in the dark?

The vampirism is the most fascinating thing about this novel. Caused by a parasite, as well as the effects I have mentioned it also allows pockets of oxygen to be held in cysts that allow the peeps to hold their breath for a long time, it gives the peeps an aversion to sunlight and, as the parasite gets into the rat population it infects them providing the peeps with broods of rats. It also extends human life; some carriers in the night watch are centuries old.

The normally infected are not too cognisant, and the parasite causes an anathema effect. The peeps hate and fear those things they cherished most in life. Centuries before this may have been the crucifix, thus the popular image of the vampire cowering away from the cross. Now it is as likely to be an image of Elvis.

Westerfeld adds a chapter between each main chapter that discusses the effects of various parasites in nature, and the way they control and adapt hosts for their survival. These are told in the voice of Cal and work really well, positively breaking up the main prose that rockets along at breakneck speed.

Cal himself is a great narrator but if I had an issue with the novel it is down to the fact that his voice may have been great but his characterisation was weak. We learn little of Cal the vampire, he is a little slapdash at times, he is hungry and he is horny - a typical young man. Incidentally Cal has to fight his sexual urges (the parasite spreads through bites as it is in saliva but also in other bodily fluids and its spoors are small enough to get through latex). We do not learn much else about Cal, however, and nothing really of his pre-infection life. You know what though, it doesn’t matter and this is the first of a series and so we have our basic introduction and we may learn more later.

That said the story is interesting, with a nice pulp edge that helps the prose rocket along, and the background concept is superb. A nice edge of paranoia slips into the novel and there is just a colouring of Lovecraft – no bad thing to me. A remarkable series opener, the world of parasite positive can only go from strength to strength. 7 out of 10.

The book is released in the UK on 7th June, 2007.

Incidentally, the beginning of the book is set in Hoboken, before moving into New York City, I mention this as my site stats show that I have a regular visitor from there.


Mateo said...

Sounds fairly interesting. I like when people try to put a new spin on the mythos, but at the same time I wonder if it strays too far. Does this easily fit within the definition you laid out in your Vamp or Not columns?

I can't seem to find a US publisher for this, so I guess I'll have to wait. By the way, I did purchase Blindsight and it's in my stack of things to read.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo, I think it does fit in. Whilst the source is a parasite it does lead to all the classic vampirism traits - long lived (up to 400 years), craving blood, control of animals (the rats, and also bats are mentioned as an aside), fear of crosses - for those of a christian religous bent etc.

The book was published in the US by Razorbill, part of Penguin, in 2005. Having had a search for you it was actually published under a different title - Peeps. Personally I prefer Parasite Positive.

Hope you enjoy Blindsight, I know that Crabstix is also reading it.

CrabStiX said...

Gosh, Darn Maggotfarmers!

I say, can't a guy have an idea without somebody snorkeling the zeitgeist and doing one on blindside?
Geesh Louise, gimmee a break!

Hey Ho. So it goes, as Kilgore Trout might say.

Anyhoo, Blindsight is reading very nicely... hard edge sci-fi. Sharp enough to cut your mind..

Anonymous said...

I believe that this is the same book that was published here in the U.S. under the title "Peeps" by Scott Westerfield

Taliesin_ttlg said...

anonymous, it is.