“Parasite” by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2013)

Parasite
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With the completion of the Newsflesh trilogy that has earned Mira Grant some dedicated readers, she turns to a new series, this one a duology called Parasitology, leaving the zombies behind for now and taking on a perhaps more frightening and realistic subject: parasites. The time is the near future and the concept is what if we kept a tapeworm in our intestines, known as the Intestinal Bodyguard, which could help cure sickness and prevent things like allergies? Sounds great.  But what if these tapeworms became sentient and intelligent?

Sally came back from the dead; she suffered a horrible accident that essentially killed her but thanks to SymboGen she was brought back to life along with her Intestinal Bodyguard. She’s a different person now, changed from who she was; calmer, quieter, less likely to anger. She’s living with her parents again, still getting used to being alive and being a person once more. She has monthly visits with SymboGen as they continue to check on her and perform their experiments to make sure everything inside her is working fine. She works at an animal habitat center and she has a boyfriend; life for Sally now ain’t too bad.

Except things are starting to get weird; some people are starting to act not like people. They’re acting as if someone else is in control of them, turning violent against other people, really violent, and then falling into a sort of catatonic state. It’s seems totally random and no one really knows who’s going to get hit with this weird state next. And SymboGen isn’t saying if they know anything about this. But Sally knows they have to know something, and she’s going to need to work out what exactly is happening to these people and what can be done about it; because if it’s to do with the Intestinal Bodyguard, then this could happen to her too, at any time.

Grant uses a vaguely similar template for Parasite as she did with Newsflesh, and the reader can’t help but think of these people acting weird as being “zombielike,” but she presents plenty of fun surprises and explores some interesting concepts that leave the reader questioning just about everything, plus one gets to learn way more than they wanted about parasites, Mira Grant style.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Gulp” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2013)

Gulp
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Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff and Bonk, brings her host of avid non-fiction readers to a whole new arena with Gulp.  Welcome to the alimentary canal, a politely titled journey from a single bite passing through our bodies into the toilet bowl.  Just as with her other books, Roach employs her patented humor and obsession for the detailed and at times gross.

Unsurprisingly, Roach begins with the mouth and taste and the importance of the sense of smell with taste.  She recounts her meeting with a person whose job is to taste wines and beers that are “off” in some way.  This person has such a developed and trained palate, she knows what has been done wrong in the fermenting of the beer, or the preparation of the wine.  Roach then continues on down the gullet with succinct chapters on each part, providing lots of details of how it all works, what the process is, and plenty of facts you might have never wanted to know about your throat, or stomach, or intestine.  But the book is also bursting with lots of information to increase one’s general knowledge, such as why stomach acid doesn’t burn through your stomach lining.  The shocking answer is that it actually does, but the stomach lining is constantly being replaced with fresh, new stomach lining cells.  And this is why a dead person’s stomach acid will burn through their stomach.

Perhaps Gulp’s only failing is that the reader is left wanting to know and learn more, but the book has to end somewhere.  In addition to biological and science details, Roach also provides lots of stories and histories of past experiments of what was done in learning about these body parts and how they worked.  And for those really curious, yes, there are multiple chapters on flatulence.  Readers will not be disappointed, but they never are with Mary Roach.

Originally written on April 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Gulp from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.