Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena is a bizarre and utterly mesmerizing book of science fiction horror. I never would have found it, much less read it, without being pointed in the right direction by a good friend with a unique taste in books. I am now pointing anyone I know in the direction: Read Parasite Eve! Long a cult favorite in Japan, the book was made into a movie (clip above) and its premise — the rise of a parasitic mitochondria ready, willing, and — most scary of all — able to take over the world from humans, is the basis of a hugely popular video game.
But don’t let the movie/video game angle keep you away from what is a genuinely well-written book. Parasite Eve is populated by richly-developed characters, energized by a well thought-out and patiently delivered plot, and amplified by its educational interludes; I learned all about mitochondria, nuclei, organ transplants, evolution, and the culturing of cells (Parasite Eve makes a strange but effective companion piece to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).
Underlying the activity of the book — the intersecting interests of scientists, patients, and an unwitting host, all held hostage to the overweening dreams of a centuries-old parasite — is a consideration of the role of “work” and “ambition” in Japanese society. The characters by and far work too hard, spend too little time with their families, and lose touch with the purpose of life. When a new form of life threatens their existence, the wake-up call is sounded, but is it too late? Is it too late for all of us to stop, drop, and refocus on what is important in life? Read this book and the need for reflection will become clear — along with principles of cellular biology. Live and learn.
Parasite Eve was translated from the Japanese by Tyran Grillo.
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