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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Parasite Eve

Sena Hideaki

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Parasite Eve

Title: Parasite Eve
Author: Sena Hideaki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 310 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Parasite Eve - US
Parasite Eve - UK
Parasite Eve - Canada
  • Japanese title: パラサイトイヴ
  • Translated from the Japanese by Tyran Grillo
  • Parasite Eve was made into a movie, directed by Masayuki Ochiai, in 1997

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Our Assessment:

B : odd mix of the clinical, emotional, and icky

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Los Angeles Times . 15/6/2008 Susan Salter Reynolds
Time . 6/6/2008 Andrew Monahan

  From the Reviews:
  • "With its laboratories and filthy streets, its urban decay, Parasite Eve has all the trappings of a classic B movie (...) As is the case in those movies, the terrible vulnerability of the human race is almost laughable" - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The editors at Vertical Press haven't weeded out the slew of mistranslations from the original hardcover English edition. But some of these botched phrases -- including real puzzlers like "the unreality of a shimmer at the bottom of a cascade of sunlight" and "pessimism encountered the warmth lingering in his hands from the night before in subtle billows of conflict" -- inadvertently achieve a kind of prose poetry reminiscent of the great Dada-influenced poet Chuya Nakahara. Grumbling about their incomprehensibility just keeps you from enjoying their unwitting beauty." - Andrew Monahan, Time

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Focussing on the mysteries and properties of mitochondria, Parasite Eve throws out some interesting ideas (and nightmares). Author Sena has a Ph.D. in pharmacology (and -- no surprise -- so does the scientist at the centre of the novel), and there's a lot of sound science (and science-speak) in the novel. But, just as Michael Crichton did in his nanotechnology-thriller, Prey, the thrust of the novel is completely unscientific and even downright silly.
       Like much of science fiction, Parasite Eve looks like a book warning of the dangers inherent in science and scientific tinkering, but, despite all the horrors that are recounted here, it is in fact deeply reassuring because it is so very silly: even a child realises that, whatever mitochondria might one day get up to, even in our worst nightmares, this is not going to happen. Parasite Eve nominally looks like a modern Frankenstein-novel; it is, in fact, a mere ghost story. Still, taken on its own terms, Parasite Eve offers decent if often very bizarre entertainment.
       It begins with the death of Kiyomi, the wife of scientist Toshiaki Nagashima. Kiyomi is driven to her death: she's behind the wheel, but something deep with causes her to have the accident. Yes, it's mitochondria, and having waited for millions of years to set it's plan in motion it has found in Kiyomi the perfect starting point.
       The plan is ridiculously complex, but, again, makes for some thriller-entertainment. The car crash leaves Kiyomi essentially brain-dead, but otherwise in tip-top shape -- good enough so that her kidneys can be transplanted, as had been her wish (or had it ... ?). One kidney goes to fourteen year-old Mariko, the other ... well, who cares ? But Toshiaki also wants to keep a souvenir, to keep not just his wife's memory alive but to keep her alive. Which, unfortunately, a scientist with the lab he has is capable of doing in at least a small way: he has the liver harvested, takes some cells from it, and watches them grow.
       When someone overhears Toshiaki at his wife's funeral he has it right:

     "'Kiyomi will live on.' Gives you the creeps, doesn't it ?"
       Indeed it does. And, needless to say, keeping these test tubes full of cells -- Eve 1, as he dubs it -- alive is one bad, bad idea. But he's compelled to do it, moved from within. Yes, Parasite Eve is ostensibly scientific, but depends greatly on the super-natural. The mitochondria's ability to move people according to its will is ... well, simply absurd. As is the heat that so many feel in the proximity of it, and the thump they hear within, etc. etc. Sena apparently felt the need to ascribe all these qualities to the mitochondria, but in taking that step he moved from the realm of the speculative-real to the purely fantastic.
       One advantage of the plot being so absurd is that it's often not clear what's coming. And Sena does build the suspense fairly well -- slowly building it up, even going back and recounting Toshiaki and Kiyomi's courtship -- and some of the scenes do explode fairly effectively ("Just a moment later, she burst into flames")
       Mariko's concern about whether the donor she got the kidney from is actually dead gets quite irritating, but, of course, Mariko's concerns prove spot on. One of Toshiaki's lab partners also has some concerns -- but soon enough it's too late.
       So what are the mitochondria -- and Eve 1 in particular -- up to ? Well, as it asked -- through Kiyomi -- a few years earlier: isn't it possible that:
in the near future, these parasites we call mitochondria will enslave their hosts ?
       They certainly give it a good -- or at least messy -- try, a try that evolves getting the lab samples and the kidney together in quite unholy ways. Eve 1 conveniently morphs into .. well anything it wants, it seems -- though what it leaves behind often ain't pretty:
     Pieces of flesh were splattered all over the room. Some were beige, some red, and others black. They ranged from the size of a fingertip to that of a fist. Asakura's table was covered with what looked like ground pork. There were even some slender pieces dangling from the ceiling.
       And, of course, it has that great energy-creating capability, something Sena milks to the fullest (lots of people get burned in this novel). Still, Eve 1 finds it hard to pull itself entirely together: when getting ready to plant her seed in young Mariko, for example, there are small distractions: "At that moment, one of Her arms fell off, hitting the floor with a splat". (Don't you hate when that happens ?)
       Fast-forwarding in present time, everyone is soon witness to the outcome (hey, it beats waiting nine months) -- and the struggle between good and evil, mitochondria and man comes to its ... semi-thrilling conclusion. The idea behind the outcome -- who wins, and why -- is also a very clever one, but it doesn't translate ideally in Sena's grossly oversimplified creation. Still, it does allow for lines like:
     Eve 1's child screamed in sexually dimorphous anguish.
       Parasite Eve pays attention to lots of the medical detail: everything from transplant procedures to various lab procedures are described in graphic and meticulous detail -- so much of the book sounds very authentic and believable; there are even endnotes explaining everything from Eppendorf tubes to RT-PCR. The bigger story, however, is a ghost story, a story of possession and exorcism that is entirely unscientific and unrealistic. Grounded in a few facts about mitochondria, Sena takes these and ... well, he goes nuts with them. The result is nothing less (and certainly nothing more) than profoundly silly. With very little emphasis on the profound.
       Taken on its own terms -- i.e. not taken at all scientifically seriously (beyond in some of the technical detail) -- Parasite Eve is a decent enough thriller. Some of the science-speak bogs down the narrative, but Sena tries to develop his characters (though in some cases he does so quite poorly) and he does a decent job of ratcheting up suspense. It is also a very gory book: there are blood and guts and mitochondrial ooze (and people going up in flames) all over the place. (So: not for the squeamish !)
       It's a very peculiar book, and not a particularly good one, but as reassuring escapist medical science fiction -- with a lot of the right messy medical details -- makes for a decent enough read.

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Parasite Eve: Reviews: Parasite Eve - the movie: Sena Hideaki: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Sena Hideaki (瀬名秀明) has a Ph.D. in pharmacology.

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