Thursday, 23 June 2016
Technically speaking, the mindless walking corpses in Symbiont aren't the walking dead. Instead, they're 'sleepwalkers', who have had their bodies taken over by a medicinal tapeworm in what is, depending on your point of view, either a scientific nightmare or the product of a seriously warped imagination. This has resulted in the end of the world. The majority of people having their minds enslaved by parasites generally has this effect. The problem is that due to the lack of integration all human thought has gone, intelligence fleeing with the destroyed human mind.
Sal Mitchell is our heroine and sole point of view character. After the events of the first book, Parasite, brought about the end of civilisation as we know it and major revelations have been made as to the nature of the future of humanity (hint: it involves parasites), Symbiont picks up where the story had been left and proceeds to take it further into ethically murky waters. What is human? Who gets to decide what is human? What happens when humanity plays god? More questions are asked in this than in its predecessor, but I'm not sure it's a good thing.
The thing about Mira Grant's first trilogy, Newsflesh, was that it was both light in tone and dark in nature. It asked questions, but it never allowed those questions to bog down the pacing and it never forgot about the driving narrative. Zombies and Republicans may not be everyone's thing (even if it offers a great chance for current affairs jokes), but I thoroughly enjoyed it because it maintained its breakneck pace throughout and didn't allow itself to linger. Although it was a hefty read, it didn't outstay its welcome, even in its weirder moments. Parasitology, on the other hand, loses pace dramatically in Symbiont, and it becomes apparent after only a hundred pages or so that this was originally conceived to be a duology and that it subsequently became stretched into a trilogy. I'd personally be interested to know whether this was Grant/McGuire's choice or at the publisher's behest.
To say Symbiont runs to over 500 pages (I read the Kindle edition, which says it's 608), not an awful lot happens. I should qualify that by saying that although a lot does happen on a page-by-page basis, most of the events feel like they're padding out the page count and offer little to develop characters or settings. Even the events which do take place feel like they've been spread out. It's only at the end when it feels like the story is getting back on track, having taken a sprawling detour through a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape.
There's also the distinct feeling of déjà vu which also pervaded Parasite. There are times when the trilogy has felt like a slightly off-piste rehash of Newsflesh without the politics and with the end of the world playing out rather than the aftermath alone. We have complex conspiracies, wacky minor characters (one of whom genuinely believes that his life is a video game) and an end of the world scenario. There was a freshness to the ideas of Newsflesh which made it so enjoyable, but that freshness doesn't exist in Parasitology. I may be forced to revise my opinion by the third book, but although I can't say Symbiont was bad by any stretch of the imagination I can't recommend it highly. To now I've found the whole series something of a disappointment. Hopefully I'll enjoy the conclusion, Chimera, far more.