Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Release Date: September 7, 2006
Genre: Fiction, young adult, vampires
Summary: Cal has a problem. He carries a parasite which turns anyone who comes into sexual contact with him into a cannibalistic monster. As if being a teenage boy wasn’t difficult enough. Compound this with the fact that he’s falling for journalism grad student Lace and that he’s hunting down the girl who gave him this disease and took his virginity in a gay bar and you have a typically amusing and inventive Scott Westerfeld novel.
Peeps or parasite positive individuals are a well kept secret of the ancient, modern, post-modern, and post-post modern world, in other words: vampires. The existence of these Peeps is kept a secret by members of the Night Watch, a hidden government organization that loves its bureaucracy. The book follows Cal as he tries to unearth the people he turned and find the girl who turned him while catching rats, cats, and slobbery ex-girlfriends in the progress.
WARNING: Cassie-wa’s post contains some spoilers, as well as some discussion about the Peeps sequel, The Last Days (which you should totally buy on Amazon because it’s only $3.29 right now).
(The following review contains mild spoilers. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)
You should definitely read Peeps if you like vampires. More importantly, you should definitely read Peeps if you don’t like vampires.
“Peeps” are not the vampires we are accustomed to. They’re “parasite-positive” which means they have a parasite controlling their mind that basically makes them go nuts, hate everything about their old life (like symbols of their religion, or their own relflection… get it??) and become super violent and/or horny (so that the parasite can get to other hosts!). It’s all super scientific!
The highlights of the book were the facts-about-parasites interludes between chapters. For one thing, I learned way more about different kinds of parasites than I ever wanted to, but it was all really, really interesting. It also effectively made vampires seem like a totally natural incidence, as opposed to a supernatural one.
The only problem I have with Peeps is THERE IS NOT ENOUGH PEEPS. Seriously, Scott, what the hell? There’s this really amazing premise, and we’ve got a cast of cool characters: delightfully sardonic and adorably cat-loving Cal, hipster take-chargey Lace, Dr. Rat, the Shrink, not to mention two characters who definitely needed more page-time: Paperwork Guy and THE NIGHT MAYOR, and I sure as hell was ready to read at least 100 more pages, but it all just ENDS SUDDENLY. Not cool.
For one thing, the sexual tension between Cal and Lace was resolved super quickly. Now look, I don’t need 1,000+ pages of sexual tension as can be found in certain other vampire novels, but it does make things pretty exciting.
Then the idea of what is essentially the apocalypse isn’t even introduced until like right at the end of the book! We got to see one big ol’ worm (love that it was a worm, by the way, considering that a great deal of the rest of the book talks about them), and that’s it! I have no idea how wide-scale this problem is, exactly, or why Cal changed his mind and trusted his employers so quickly even after they lied to him.
Re: Paperwork Guy and The Night Mayor. I can’t remember Paperwork Guy’s name, but he’s a bureaucrat in the extensively paperwork-driven records department, calls Cal “Kid” like everyone else (which Cal hates), and snarks about his job like any other employee of a non-monster-fighting company would. I thought he was GREAT. But how did he end up working in this place? And what happens to him once shit really starts to go down? I would read a whole book about this guy.
Then there’s the NIGHT MAYOR. I didn’t figure out his name until about half-way through the book and then I laughed out loud. AMAZING. But we never actually get to meet him or know really anything about him!
Despite wanting more to read, I was basically satisfied with where Peeps ended. It was a good place for the characters, and portended really exciting things to come! Which is why I immediately ordered The Last Days on mah Kindle and started reading it. I figured, surely all of my questions would be answered!
Wrong. The Last Days is a completely different book about a group of young adults who form a band in the middle of the apocalypse, and if you’ve read Peeps YOU know what’s going on, but the kids have no idea for most of the book.
The Last Days is amazing. It features some of the most compelling writing I’ve ever read. When the book describes the music the band plays, it’s like being MESMERIZED. I don’t even mind that the narrative jumps between five different characters (the band members) because I care about all of them equally.
The one problem I have with The Last Days… THERE ISN’T ENOUGH THE LAST DAYS. Once again we sort of plow through the story, get thrown into a really interesting, amazing world, and yet I feel gipped on most of the details. The first time the band plays a show they call up a big worm (awesome awesome awesome, by the way), and are immediately captured by Cal’s crew and taken to New Jersey (thanks for the all the Jersey love in this series, by the way) to get cured/trained to be worm-fighting warriors. And then suddenly we are shown that the world has basically ended. What??
I think Scott underestimated how invested the reader might become in the details of the world he created. The reason I read The Last Days at all was the hope that it would answer all the questions I had about Peeps, and for the most part, it didn’t. What I did enjoy were the PLAGUE TIDBITS in place of the FACTS ABOUT PARASITES. As a medievalist, I sure love me some plague tidbits. But they were purportedly from the Night Mayor and, once again, WHO IS THIS NIGHT MAYOR?
Did I mention this review is getting progressively drunker? Look, basically these books are fantastic. I think it would be difficult for Scott Westerfeld to write a *bad* book, so what do you expect? Read them. Read them and share my frustration that they aren’t longer and slower, allowing us to spend more time in this interesting and alarmingly plausible new world.
Well, I took a break from Game of Thrones to read Peeps! What a great idea, I should read other books more often. It’s not like I have to hurry up before the 6th book comes out or something…
So Peeps was fantastic. Really fantastic. To start, the modern, fun language was a relief to me. Cal is an extremely likable and not overly excitable narrator. I completely loved the biology lessons in every other chapter of the book (and scattered throughout) about parasites and how they evolved to find their optimum virulence that keeps Cal so awake at night. I also really loved how all of the vampire lore was tied in to the story. Well of course their reflections appear in mirrors, but vampires don’t like it so they break them or don’t keep any around. And naturally they don’t like crucifixes, but only because they revered them when they were fully human. The opening scene of Cal fighting Sarah the vampire off with Elvis memorabilia was amazing. Told in a totally serious, non-apologetic way while giving us a completely silly image – love it!
The Night Watch was cool – of course, you need a secret underground organization to fight vampires when there are secretly vampires! Way neat. And then of course the idea that you can be infected, be a vampire….but still be really, really nice. Awesome! Like Angel without all that annoying angst about your cannibalistic past. Also you get the bonus of living a long time, without having to live for eternity, AND automatically scoring the kickass job of hunting other vampires. Not really seeing any downside to being a carrier. Apparently it even makes you enjoy fighting giant monsters. It’s pretty badass. And I love how it makes Cal so naturally and effortlessly badass. He went from dumb kid drinking in a gay bar without realizing it to fearlessly entering black holes in basements that smell of rats and death. Without even flinching. Also he stopped being shy and afraid of girls – another excellent bonus.
I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Lace, however. She seemed very suspicious to me from the beginning and I was definitely expecting her to be part of the huge conspiracy brewing, so it was a bit annoying to keep holding my breath for her big reveal. Although maybe that was a good thing – kept me looking in the wrong direction so I couldn’t put my finger on the actual big reveal. And hopefully I would also act like that if confronted with a vampire. Probably not, but it would be cool! (Also, she confirmed my firm belief that all vegetarians really do crave bacon just like any other normal human.)
The best thing about this book for me is how it is wonderfully science-y. Like there are vampires and monsters and all that to fulfill my supernatural craving, but at the same time there’s not really anything supernatural happening at all. I mean, compared to real life I guess it’s pretty fantastic, but in the world of Peeps it’s just biology which can be easily explained just like anything else.
The only thing that did tug me the wrong way was some of the wording of the parasite explanations. I totally get that those chapters were meant to be told in a whimsical way so that everyone can understand. Biology and evolution are not always easy to understand, so naturally you want to tell in a fun, cut-to-the-chase way and I loved the “Isn’t that sweet?” and the “Ew. Yuck. Gross.” used to let us know that the narrator understands how potentially horrifying the parasites are to the reader. But I always think that describing evolution’s “wants” or a parasite’s “intentions” is dangerous. I mean, kind of just asking for dumb people who don’t understand evolution to say “Ha! There are intentions!! God did it.” Evolution doesn’t “want” anything – it just happens. Parasites don’t want anything either. They just do what they’re going to do – sometimes it works out better than other times. What works out better creates more parasites that do the same things that work out better. Parasites didn’t have a meeting and say, “Ok gang, now if we wanted to eat a snail’s eye….” These things happen a minuscule amount at a time. And as Dr. Rat lets us know, the vast majority of the time – mutations are bad and don’t work out at all.
I’m obviously nitpicking here. The reason for that language in the book is to make it relatable to us. I know Scott gets it and I know we get it, I just fear for those people who don’t get it…. Actually I’m totally afraid of those people who don’t get it. More than vampires!!
Anyway, this book was absolutely fantastic. I do love vampires. It is so nice to have a really good book about vampires to read. Scott mentioned at one of the panels at Leakycon that he had tried to figure out exactly how many thousands of books there are about vampires, but it was pretty much impossible. How am I supposed to know which ones are any good? Answer: Read ones that are written by Scott Westerfeld. His vampires are badass and sexy through science. Seriously check out this book if you haven’t yet – I looked at it countless times in bookstores without buying and I’m so glad I finally have it. I know Twilight has made us all wary of touching vampire books, but they can still be cool!
Peeps was also an excellent distraction from what feels more like an endless drudge through Game of Thrones and from the anxious wait for the delightfully fantastic and fake science waiting for me in Goliath! Is it time for Goliath yet?
One of the things that really make Scott Westerfeld’s novels stand out is the world building. In the Uglies, he’s brought me to a post-apocalyptic future in which serious questions about humans and the natural world are played out against a fast-paced action story. Next, he pulls me back in time to an alternate history filled with hybrid beasties and badass war machines in the Leviathan series. This was the first present day work I’ve read, and he still manages to create a New York City which is vastly different than the one I’ve known. The subterranean breeding grounds for rats and other creatures is such a contrast to the lights and life above. Add in the Night Watch, the secret organization for which Cal works, and this novel is just as engrossing and fun as one set in an alternate universe.
The ending was freaking cool, an unexpected twist but not unwarranted. It wasn’t out of the blue, and that can be attributed to how well-crafted this novel is. Once I got what was really happening, the subtle building and foreshadowing all popped in my mind. Another thing that really added to the end was all of the even-numbered chapters. Besides being gruesomely fascinating (I love me some evolutionary science!), they too build into the ending. It reminded me of the ancillary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath, not having much to do with the plot but adding to the depth and meaning of the novel. Except these chapters are all about icky worms, flies, and wasps that can royally screw with your body. A warning – reading this right before sleep might not be the best choice.
One small complaint – to start out with a New Jersey joke, oh Scott Westerfeld you broke my heart. Though I will say, many opportunities to bag on Jersey were passed. So for that I thank you. And he did mock the morons who don’t believe in evolution, so equilibrium was established.
Lastly – I want a sequel! I want to hear more about Cal and Lace, perhaps more about his family and how they are going to be affected, more about the Night Watch, more about the crazy ending – just more. Which is high praise indeed.
I have read a lot of vampire novels, and I have to say that Scott Westerfeld’s vampires are new and interesting and fresh. As far as vampire conventions go they dislike sunlight, have a hunger lust, are blessed/cursed with prolonged life, and are inhumanely beautiful. In Westerfeld’s world, this is all explained by the disease the Peeps carry, which dilates their pupils (and explains the inhuman features and dislike of sunlight), gives them a desire for raw meat and lengthens their life while eventually killing them. It’s a catch-22 that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
The disease also makes the carriers super horny, which is explains the extreme sexuality of vampires. Whereas in other novels vampires are sexual as a fight against Victorian social mores or to represent the AIDS epidemic, in Peeps, vampirism is a real disease, not just a metaphor. And Cal is even hornier than a normal teenage boy to ensure new hosts. That’s pretty damn cruel, because Cal knows to act on his baser urges would turn the object of his affection into a monster. And no one wants their girlfriend to end up like that chick in Teeth.
The new vampire conventions come in the form of the anathema, which is something the Peeps once loved but now hate (we learn this is so they become withdrawn from society, a survival mechanism of the parasite). For example, if in life someone loved ponies and rainbows (gee, I wonder who I’m talking about), the thought or even appearance of ponies and rainbows would eventually become repulsive to them. In the novel, various anathemas are Elvis, Garth Brooks, and Jesus (which would explain why vampires were once rumored to not like crucifixes, because they were anathemas to Jesus lovers). Granted, lots of people who aren’t medieval peasants love Jesus, but the myth originated in this age. And any excuse to type medieval peasants is a good excuse for me.
One of the inventions of Scott’s New York that I love the most is the Night Watch. At first I was reminded of the Discworld’s City Watch, but came to think more of them as the Night Watch from A Song of Fire and Ice, only with more paperwork and a more ridiculous cast of characters like Dr. Rat, the Shrink, and the Records guy. All of this underground government is overseen by the Night Mayor, who I had to have Cassie-wa informs me sounds like NIGHTMARE. Get it? Night Mayor = NIGHTMARE. I felt so damn stupid when I heard the name out loud. We learn that he has been in office since 1687 and was granted with a life-long term. Somewhere, Roosevelt is turning around in his grave.
Then there are the rats. Much like rats during the plague- the plague also comes up a lot which as a prior medieval studies minor I LOVE- “don’t suffer from the infection” but are merely carriers. In the novel they have a devotion to Peeps, becoming their brood. I thought of them as remoras to sharks, but maybe that’s just because Shark Week ended not that long ago. Like the rats, Cal is also a carrier, which is pretty damn lucky because only 1 in 100 who are infected become carriers rather than turning into
Lindsay Lohan Peeps.
The best scene by far was in Lace’s apartment, when she reveals the hidden message written on the walls of her apartment in blood. “so pRetty i hAd to Eat hiM”. Not only was I shocked by the fact that being a Peep ruins your vocabulary and makes you write like a tween, but it had my inner horror movie nerd jumping up and down in delight. That whole scene was perfectly creepy. Just how I like it.
My only problem was with the ending. It felt extremely rushed and everything was resolved too quickly for my tastes. I read the novel on my Kindle, and I was told there was another 10% left, however that 10% was merely a sneak-peak into The Last Days. When I saw that epilogue heading I was shocked. How could that be the ending? How could everyone have merely accepted that turn of events?
I WANTED MORE EXPOSITION DAMMIT!
WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-We pretty much love any Scott Westerfeld novel
-Fun take on the vampire genre (added bonus: they don’t sparkle!)
-The chapters about parasites, like a really awesome biology lesson that doesn’t bore us
-Amazing world that we want and need to know more about
-Fun peripheral characters like Dr. Rat and Records guy
–John Green writes Peeps fan fiction, we can’t even make this shit up
WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-The super quick ending that felt so rushed and sudden
-We want to know more about Cal, did he drop out of school after becoming infected? what about his family? how does he afford an apartment in Manhattan?
Join us next month when we review our September Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Goliath by Scott Westerfeld.