George the Parasite — SF Ho
by Eleonor Botoman
Ants infected by the spores of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis lose all control of their bodies and minds, wandering until the parasitic fungus living in their musculature splits their exoskeletons open with a bloom of fruiting bodies hungry for their next host. One can’t help but wonder if the ants know what’s happening. Do they try to fight against this exploitative physical and mental death, or do they feel contaminated bliss—a little less lonely with something else sharing their body?
S F Ho’s debut novel George, the Parasite (2020), the first title from curator Danielle St-Amour’s pandemic-born publishing project SPEC/FIC, is one such psychic infection. An unnamed alien flees a planet so ravaged by pollution that its greatest commodity is the oxygen it squeezes out of the lungs of enslaved miners, through collars puncturing their necks. The alien finds an earthly vessel in George, who is haunted by the spectres of his own loneliness. As an immersive film of a planet in ecological disarray projects into a darkened theater, George greets this strange entity, only to find his skull cracked open and the alien slipping into his consciousness. “The border of your unconscious mind wanted to be violated, you just didn’t know it yet,” the alien notes in a harsh observation of George’s tendency to end up in situations where everyone else’s fantasies, memories, and desires eat away at his bodily autonomy.
A successful parasite does not just live long enough to finish off its host; it must spread and build its contagion. George, newly emboldened by telepathic abilities given to him by his parasitic invader, searches for more people to join his network of psychic bonds as his world and the alien’s spill into each other. I’m reminded of Laura Hyunjhee Kim’s book Entering the Blobosphere: A Musing on Blobs (2019), where she writes: “A blob is a cerebral shared ride. A blob is a repetition of a familiar form(ula).” Like Kim’s blob, Ho’s mutating patchwork of realities across people and dimensions grows and collapses like dreams within dreams, a glitched mitosis of storytelling as George and his infected companions wander through apocalyptic cityscapes and industrialized toxicity. Each hallucinatory narrative cycles back into itself until, like a combusting film reel, George’s body and mind dissolve into an interconnected entropy. In one instance, [SPOILER ALERT to end of paragraph] George washes up on the shore of his alien’s decaying planet after escaping forces out to destroy him. Here, George is revived and sent down to deep-sea mines where his lungs are squeezed of their clean oxygen for the ruling class, and he quickly deteriorates.
George, the Parasite begins and ends in a movie theatre, one of those peculiar liminal spaces where you can simultaneously experience communality while also escaping into the solitary corners of your mind. Centred on the invasion of non-human beings, Ho’s text contains many nods to a branch of science fiction cinema concerned with biopolitical control: Alien (1979), The Matrix (1999), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), to name a few. These films have been discussed as metaphors for queer embodiment, sexual violence, colonization, ecological destruction, and capitalist exploitation. Yet, Ho’s exploration goes beyond Hollywood heroics, sculpted as it is by the corporeal pressures of love, loneliness, and the porous, unconscious borders between body and mind. George, in his queerness, and the alien, in its otherness, are empathically entwined in their struggle to survive in violent systems of power designed to subjugate them.
What is perhaps most striking is Ho’s use of sound throughout this text. Their alien being acts like a living tuning fork, communicating not through words but through harmonious frequencies of emotionality transmitted between entities. Right after his transformation into a host, and with senses sharpened on love, George becomes aware of an unconscious “promise of eternity” moving like an arrow through the raucous, commodifying sounds of romantic pop music blaring on a busy street. Each breath George and these beings share syncs together body and mind, allowing these entities to unite in a living network of mutual survival. Messages are also transmitted through unspoken psychic links, unconscious memories, ancient patterns in unravelling DNA, and humus mixtures of bone, dirt, and ash. Defiantly unknowable, George’s parasite refuses to be represented in traditional forms of human speech.
This mycelial network of sound exists in direct resistance to the destructive militarized forces that exploit the natural resources of the alien’s home world. Yet, Ho avoids an eco pessimistic view of such violent colonial actions, challenging the reader instead to consider how those most vulnerable may find ways to survive within complex systems of power, exploitation, and abuse. Ho’s artistic practice considers these very dynamics through ecosystems of sound and collaborative storytelling. Their performances Palabras (2017) and Mehdateyshuns (2010) produce musical compositions through organic, communal acts of vocal harmony and reactive engagements of involuntary bodily noises like heartbeats and breath, with actors observing and improvising from each other’s gestures in a form of biofeedback. For Ho the human body is a complex medium embedded with emotional and sociohistorical resonances that shape our relationships to one another.
There’s this one line I can’t get out of my head: Ho writes, through the voice of their alien, “In a world without choice there is no such thing as consent.” Navigating complex emotional conflicts of desire and being desired by others, and eventually, a machine-like tool for economic exploitation, George seeks relief from his own emotional alienation in a society where he has no self-determination. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that he opens up to the destructive psychic cohabitation of an alien and begins to find purpose through the people he subsumes. We might do anything to be loved by others, Ho suggests—we may even destroy ourselves. As George’s parasitic alien lover notes, “It’s been the end of the world for a long time.” Yet, Ho’s text asks us, what comes after these systems collapse? What is creation if not the continued transference and transformation of energy, of knowledge, of resilience, of stories, from one being to another?