Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vampire Cool

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in ages. I raced through it in one day last weekend and then passed it straight on to my husband who had the same experience.

Scott Westerfeld has built himself a reputation as one of the most exciting writers of young adult fiction at the moment, especially with his sci-fi series, Uglies. I've only recently discovered his work but in the couple of novels that I've read, I've been impressed with his ability to take a genre like sci-fi or horror and make it his own. His novels are underpinned by well-thought out philosophies and scientific concepts. In Uglies, he focused on our society's obsession with beauty, imagining a future where everywhere has an operation to make them uniformly 'beautiful' at sixteen. In Peeps, Westerfeld considers what modern science knows about parasites and uses it to explain an outbreak of vampire-like behaviour in New York City.

Peeps centres around Cal Thompson, a young university student who becomes infected by a parasite. Luckily he is immune to some of the parasite's nastier side effects (fear of light, a violent temperament, a taste for human blood) and becomes what is known as a carrier. He does get some of the cooler side effects though, such as fantastic night vision, super strength, a very good sense of smell and the world's fastest metabolism. Unfortunately he also develops a very active sex drive as the parasite tries to spread itself. Since even kissing a girl would be enough to pass on the parasite and turn her into a crazed, flesh eating vampire, he faces considerable challenges.

Cal is contacted by a secret organisation, mostly made up of other carriers, who are given the task of containing the parasite. He must track down and capture all his past girlfriends and, eventually, find the carrier who infected him. It is during the search for the girl who gave him the virus that he meets an attractive young woman, Lace, who quickly finds out more than she should about Cal's mission. Cal finds himself in a difficult situation as he falls for Lace but knows that he can't even kiss her without passing on the parasite.

Westerfeld alternates chapters of the story with chapters about the weird and wonderful world of real parasites. It sounds like a strange technique but it works. Learning about the bizarre parasites that really exist makes Westerfeld's fictional vampiric parasite much more believable. He also writes about the science of parasites in such a funny ad entertaining way that it never feels intrusive in the story.

There is little to fault in Peeps. It is smart, funny and fast-paced. Thankfully Westerfeld avoids the kind of po-faced seriousness that seems to plague some vampire books and films. The ending is all a bit rushed but it's a small criticism. This is definitely one for older adolescents and adults who are happy to go along for the ride.


Anonymous said...

Is Westerfield Australian? I haven't come across him in the UK as yet, but there are so many excellent Australian YA fantasy writers published here now (Alison Croggon is my favourite) that I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I'll keep a look out for him. Thanks for the review.

Stephanie said...

I have heard so much about his Uglies series and now your glowing review for Peeps - I really must check out Scott Westerfeld. Thanks!

jess said...

Table talk, Westerfeld is American although he does spend part of his time in Sydney. He also keeps a blog which you can find here.

Thanks Stephanie. I look forward to hearing your thoughts if you do read anything by him.