Cal Thompson acquires a parasite during a one-night stand at the beginning of college. Fortunately, he didn’t have to suffer the worst of symptoms that normally come on with this parasite – cannibalism, anathema, gathering a brood – but unfortunately, he passed the disease onto others before realizing he had it. Now, he’s tracking down former girlfriends, trying to make sure they don’t spread the infection.
This is a vampire book, but not a vampire book like any I’ve ever read. It’s very unique. Saying vampirism is caused by a disease is not new or anything. Even Twilight has vampire-disease in it. However, this book is grounded in science, and the disease is made out to be plausible. There is a good explanation for everything. For instance, take Twilight (and I only take this one because I really don’t like vampires and read very little about them, and this happens to be the only book I remember offhand. I’m really not making fun of Twilight here). Once bitten, a person is poisoned and infected. The infection them causes them to 1) become immortal, 2) become very cold and very pale, 3) become gorgeous, 4) hunger after blood, 5) become super strong and super fast, and 6) glitter in the sunlight. There’s also usually a super power involved, unique to each vampire. None of this is explained in plausible, scientific terms.
In PEEPS, however, all the vampire myths and legends are explained: why vampires (known as peeps) are associated with sex, why it’s said they don’t show up in mirrors, why they don’t like sunlight, their issues with garlic and crucifixes, why they are associated with rats and bats, why their strength and lifespan increase, why they are associated – not altogether correctly – with drinking blood. Etc. All of it has a rational, scientific explanation, and more often than not, myths are simply exaggerated and/or misunderstood tales about vampires. Take for example the age-old idea of vampires being warded off with a crucifix. Cal Thompson explains that this is because the parasite causes the host to fear the things they once loved, in order to get them to leave the place they once lived. There is a long, technical, brain-chemicals-and-survival-for-the-parasite explanation (termed anathema) for this that I won’t give here. At one point, crucifixes were a beloved symbol for many people, hence being able to ward off vampires with them. In today’s time, different things would have to be used to ward off a vampire. My favorite quote was regarding this:
…you’re much more likely to stop peeps with an iPod full of their favorite tunes. (With certain geeky peeps, I’ve heard, the Apple logo alone does the trick.)
Imagine warding off vampires with the Apple logo! Nice!
Each chapter of this book is interspersed with information about various parasites. Westerfeld confirms at the end of the book that all this information is true. He obviously did tons of research, and I’m impressed that he was able to make me learn a whole lot about biology and biological processes in a book about vampires. Especially as I’m not a science person to begin with. Through these chapters, he shows that the function of parasites is to live their lifespan out in the most comfortable, efficient, productive way possible. The vampire parasite is no different. It wants to spread itself and live well. That’s not too unreasonable to ask.
[Spoilers for the rest of this review.]
My only complaint about this book comes near the end, when Cal has to fight a big, giant, man-eating, shape-shifting worm that has emerged from deep underground. This struck me as absurdly ridiculous. The whole book is grounded in science – it’s even plausible to think that such a vampire parasite might exist! – and then bam, we’re suddenly in a b-grade black-and-white horror/sci-fi flick. We suddenly need the Mystery Science Theatre gang to come in and make some jokes. It was so out of place. I know there was an explanation given earlier in the book, but it was so thin and weak that it just couldn’t compensate for how ridiculous the climax felt. I’m hoping there will be a better explanation in the sequel, The Last Days. But other than the few pages of cheesiness near the end, PEEPS was great. I am even more impressed with Westerfeld after this book.