Yes, it is as trashy as it looks.
Vampirism – though you’ll rarely find the v-word in the book – has nothing to do with magic. It’s a parasite. Parasite-positives (peeps) are super-strong (in effect), have excellent night vision, an aversion to carbs, and cravings for protein – the meatier and bloodier, the better. In most peeps, this manifests as cannibalism. In the lucky one in a hundred who are carriers, they just really like the Atkins diet. And are really horny. All the time. And the parasite is viable in just about all bodily fluids, including saliva, and is small enough to slip through latex condoms. So the responsible carriers, like our narrator, must be completely celibate with anyone who isn’t also a carrier. And at 19, Cal’s the youngest carrier by a hundred years or so. So he’s totally celibate.
I call foul on a book narrated by a nineteen year old male who’s horny all the time, does not have a moral stance against premarital sex, and is celibate by necessity, in which masturbation is not mentioned once.
Anyway, Cal infected several woman between being infected himself and when the Night Watch, which deals with peep containment, found him, explained why he suddenly had night vision and such, and trained him as a hunter. And sent him off to track down his now-cannibalistic exes and send them to the containment facility in Montana. So far, so good. Except when he tries to track down the mysterious woman who infected him, things start to get a bit weird – a possible new strain, a possible conspiracy in the Night Watch, possible new infection vector, strange things coming up from deep under New York. Now Cal doesn’t just need to track down the woman who infected him, he also needs to figure out what’s going on and save the world!
It’s really trashy.
That said, it’s also pretty fun. Vampirism-as-STD is pretty hokey, but he uses it to come up with some pretty nifty explanations for various parts of the vampire mythos, like cruciphobia and the mirrors thing. Fighting vampires with Elvis memorabilia, a boombox of Ashlee Simpson, and a Garth Brooks tee-shirt is nicely campy, as, really, vampire things should be. There are chapters on real-world parasitology, which are interesting and short enough to not get boring or detract from the narrative flow. (Though I call foul there, too: a teenage boy explaining the evolution of human head lice and body lice without mentioning human pubic lice? Especially since the evolution of human pubic lice is even more interesting?)
Do not pick up Peeps expecting anything thought-provoking or revelatory. Pick it up if you want some fun trash.
Peeps ~ Scott Westerfield ~ westerblog
From Unshelved, my favorite description of Peeps