Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Steak Tartare and the Cats of Gari Babakin

Novelette by Mary Turzillo

The citizens of Gari Babakin station are all infected with Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that is altering their personalities. They are happy with these personality changes, but their corperate owners think it is a public health hazard, and worse, cutting into profits. And they're willing to kill any number of adorable kitties to do it.

A fun, quick story. But while I didn't want to stop reading it, I also didn't enjoy it overmuch. Partly because the station seems to be a little too French: the main characters are Jean-Marie, Lucile, and Benoit and their culinary mastery is focussed entirely on wine, cheese, and pastry, the only other industry being fashion; it just seems a bit too close to France for me. The author is surely aware that the French population has an 80% toxoplasma carrier rate and wanted to riff off it, but it doesn't work for me.

But the main thing that puts me off is the SCIENCE! Now I know this is a light, unrealistic fun story, but there are certain things I just can't get past. I wouldn't mind if the station had a pet unicorn, but getting details about parasites wrong is unacceptable. I suspect this is because they feel like research failure rather than deliberate innacuracy for the sake of humor. Birth defects are brough up over and over, but toxoplasma doesn't cause birth defects except in mothers newly infected around the time of the pregnancy. There is no reason you would rapidly become serum-negative for toxoplasma after being cured, espcially after years of infection. That is the whole point of memory B cells. I could go on, but these are the kind of things driving me crazy. And the whole story would have gone over better if just once she had thrown a line out there about it being a special SPACE toxoplasma that caused greater personality changes on Mars, rather than the implication that this is the standard presentation. But maybe I'm just being testy and paranoid because of my own latent Toxoplasma infection. Didn't really work for me, 2 out of 5.

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