Symbiont by Mira Grant is the second volume in a trilogy, and is not really stand-alone material. The first volume is Parasite and I'll just tell you right away: Both of these books are instant favourites of mine.
Seanan McGuire is the author behind the pseudonym Mira Grant, which was also employed for the Newsflesh trilogy (and related works). I think I've made it clear before, on this blog, that I am, um, a bit of a fan. Ok, a big one. This author writes books that apparently always punch right into my that's awesome!-muscle. It's awesome. And makes me lose my breath a little bit.
In Parasite, we entered a near-future in which humans commonly employ medicinal bio-implants, as produced by the company SymboGen. In fact, the implant is a carefully engineered parasite, created to take up residence in the human body and perform a number of health maintenance functions, like muting allergies, or dispensing insulin or other required medicinal drugs, according to individual tailoring.
You'd think perhaps people would balk at the idea of willingly hosting a smart tapeworm, but, well, no. It's the future of healthcare. Of course all the involved scientists developing this thing were fine folk of high moral fiber and squeaky clean ethics. Of course. Nothing is ever going to go wrong. Oh, wait, what? There's some T.Gondii in the implant? Hey, in case you're not a parasite nerd like myself, you've probably seen some of the tabloid shock headlines about how YOUR CAT MAKES YOU CRAZY. It's T.Gondii they're talking about, the cat just happens to be a comfortable host. Here's a bit of the wikipedia article:
Chronic infection with T. gondii has traditionally been considered asymptomatic in immunocompetent human hosts. However, accumulating evidence suggests latent infection may subtly influence a range of human behaviors and tendencies, and infection may alter the susceptibility to or intensity of a number of affective, psychiatric, or neurological disorders.
Latent T. gondii infection in humans has been associated with a higher incidence of automobile accidents, potentially due to impaired psychomotor performance or enhanced risk-taking personality profiles. Moreover, correlations have been found between positive antibody titers to T. gondii and OCD, Parkinson’s disease,Alzheimer’s disease, suicide in people with mood disorders, and bipolar disorder. Positive antibody titers to T. gondii have been shown to be not correlative with major depression or dysthymia. Although there is a correlation between T. gondii infection and many psychological disorders, scientists are still trying to find the cause on a cellular level. The reasons why infection with this parasite should alter behavior are not yet known.
Just so you understand why this fictional decision may have raised eyebrows. (I'm pretty sure the author tells you everything you need to know in the book, of course, you don't have to consult Carl Zimmer and wikipedia to understand what's going on.)
Of course, something does go wrong. Our protagonist, Sally - or Sal - Mitchell is right in the thick of the things that go wrong. It would be overwhelming for any young woman, especially one still recovering after a terrible car accident and coma causing amnesia.
Symbiont takes us further along the path with Sal and her friends - and her family. They're still trying to survive the things that went wrong, as well as any number of other interesting antagonists.
...It's really hard to explain what's going on in a second book without going back to the first one a lot and possibly spoiling that one. I'm not good at it. But trust me, okay? This book has cool science, epigenetics, and SHARKS. And, you know, as a side note, the rock solid characters I expect from this author, the smooth readability, the action and the wonderful, gory detail. I'm not sure I've ever read another book where the protagonist's head is cut open for surgery quite so many times. In a single day.
Who should read this? It's sort-of-zombie territory, so a zombie aficionado might be happy about it. If you're especially into subgenres involving biotech, or a good old exploration of ethics, yes, go for it. Or you just want a really engaging pageturner. Or, realistically, you already read Parasyte, you've waited every day since for this one to come out, and when you're done you'll be tearing your hair out because you now have to wait so long for the third book, Chimera, to come out.
You know what else you get to wait for? The full version of the children's book, Don't go out alone, bits and pieces of which is scattered through the Parasitology books. The author said - on her tumblr, as I recall - that she already wrote the whole thing. I don't know if a publisher has grabbed onto it yet, but they will. I want to believe.
The broken doors are open.