Genre: Science fiction horror. Yes, really.
Synopsis: It’s the future, and SymboGen Corporation has long since developed the Intestinal Bodyguard, a tapeworm living inside of people that manages their health and provides their medications without them ever having to do a thing. Most everyone trusts in this technology–but the tapeworms aren’t what people think they are. And they’re inside nearly everyone.
Protagonist Sally Mitchell was on life support, and it was about to get cut. But she miraculously woke up, albeit with no memories whatsoever, and the credit for that goes to the Intestinal Bodyguard. But now strange things are happening to people, and no one knows why. Except maybe SymboGen. Sally’s ties to SymboGen and her father’s role in the government put her right in the middle of the unfolding chaos.
Series: First book in a duology.
POV: First person, single viewpoint
Romance: It exists, but more in the “this is this person’s life” way than as a selling point on its own–the story isn’t about it, though in a character driven novel like this one, it has to factor into the plot.
Preview: Chapter 5.
I wrote this literally the day before I found out this was nominated for a Hugo. Congratulations, Mira Grant!
My favorite part of this story is the kind of questions it brings up, questions that don’t usually get asked in horror. What is it about life that makes it valuable to us? Is it sentience, the capacity to understand the world in a comparable way to humans? Or is it familiarity–are dogs and cats more valuable to us than other animals because we’re used to coexisting with them, because they’re part of our world as we understand it? I can’t answer these questions, and neither can the book. But this is the line of thinking inspired by it, and some things are worth thinking about.
The audience gets eased into the story–we have enough information to realize that something isn’t quite right. That sense grows with time, even as the story balances the introduction of the setting with the unveiling of the plot. The fun is in the suspense.
The answers to the big questions are never much of a mystery–they’re not written to be, and there’s plenty of information provided to easily guess what’s really going on, early in the book. The part that’s interesting is how these events unfold, and what impact they have on people. It’s finding out which characters knew what, and who is and isn’t trustworthy.
As per usual for Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire, the book is character driven, and the characters are well worth getting to know. I love Sally like I love Georgia from the Newsflesh trilogy and Toby from Rosemary and Rue.
And even though Sally was usually a little slow at processing what was going on, there is actually a perfectly good reason for that–she only has six years worth of memories and experiences to go on. She had to relearn everything, including speech, because of her amnesia.
And I really love getting the perspective of someone who doesn’t have the cultural references that she was supposed to have grown up with, or who doesn’t remember having those references. It leads to these nice touches of what our expectations are and how much of those expectations come from environmental assimilation. Sally had to relearn her social context, but she couldn’t go back to being a child. She had to relearn it as an adult, and that’s different. The information would be imparted differently to someone who was supposed to be an adult–someone people assume should already understand these things.
The unique perspective that Sally has, and the things that she doesn’t buy into, make her more interesting. And it makes her a different type of protagonist, one that may be just that little bit more relatable to the type of people who don’t find many relatable characters in fiction.
Also, I have to appreciate the characters with a strong enough sense of morality that they don’t just go for the easy paths. The right thing to do, or as close to it as we can find in real life, usually isn’t the easiest.