Recent Reading: PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld

PEEPS was the very last book I read in 2016, so there’s a landmark of sorts. I enjoyed this YA vampire novel quite a bit, even though I ordinarily prefer supernatural monsters and vampires to pseudoscientific ones. In this case, vampirism is definitely pseudoscientific. It’s caused by a type of parasite, and the chapters focusing on the main story are interspersed with chapters about different real-world parasites, such as snail flukes and Toxoplasma and so on.

After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah. It turned out she’d been hiding in New Jersey, which broke my heart. I mean, Hoboken? Sarah was always head over heels in love with Manhattan. For her, New York was like another Elvis, the King remade of bricks, steel, and granite. The rest of the world was a vast extension of her parents’ basement, the last place she wanted to wind up.

The main character is Cal, who was infected with the parasite and is now a carrier – meaning he gets lots of the vampire superpowers, but is not crazy like real vampires. It also means he accidentally infected various previous girlfriends like Sarah, so now he is hunting them down and handing them over to a secret organization that deals with stuff like this.

The female lead is Lace, short for Lacey, a girl with brains and either nerves of steel or else a serious lack of common sense. Or both. I mean, when she follows Cal down under the gym level of the apartment building, jeez. Anyway, she figures out what’s going on and joins Cal in fighting for truth, justice, and the salvation of humanity.

The plot is possibly a tiny bit unbelievable, but the story is quick, fun, fast-paced, and generally successful at sweeping the reader along through the implausible moments. As I say, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Including the parts about the various parasites. But.

For a guy who evidently did a fair bit of research while writing this book, Westerfeld does make a couple mistakes, including one that is really egregious. On p. 15, right at the beginning of chapter 2:

The natural world is jaw-droppingly horrible. Appalling, nasty, vile. Take trematodes, for example. Trematodes are tiny fish that live in the stomach of a bird.…

And here I skidded to a halt and readjusted my expectations for this book.

Let me recast the above error in order to make it more obvious. Trematodes are microscopic mammals that live in the stomach of a bird. There, does that sound crazy enough? How about this: Trematodes are tiny monkeys that live in the stomach of a bird.

To me, those sentences sound no more ridiculous than the original. Because trematodes are most definitely not fish. They are Platyhelminthes. Flatworms. So far removed from fish that you might as well insert tiny monkeys; the sentence does not get more wrong. It is probably not really the copy editor’s job to fix errors of fact, except it kind of is, but this is probably not the kind of fact a copy editor is likely to know off the top of their head, which means Westerfeld should have been more careful because no one else in the publishing team was likely to catch this kind of craziness.

It turns out that nothing else in the novel is as totally off base as the little fish, not that that’s a high bar. Lots of things are dramatically simplified or else slanted to support the kinda silly plot. But that’s fine. It’s a fun story that isn’t trying too hard for plausibility.

But good merciful God. Tiny fish.

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