Friday, July 29, 2011

Carrion Comfort - Dan Simmons

About the book

THE PAST... Caught behind the lines of Hitler’s Final Solution, Saul Laski is one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. Until he rises to meet his fate and finds himself face to face with an evil far older, and far greater, than the Nazi’s themselves…

THE PRESENT... Compelled by the encounter to survive at all costs, so begins a journey that for Saul will span decades and cross continents, plunging into the darkest corners of 20th century history to reveal a secret society of beings who may often exist behind the world's most horrible and violent events. Killing from a distance, and by darkly manipulative proxy, they are people with the psychic ability to 'use' humans: read their minds, subjugate them to their wills, experience through their senses, feed off their emotions, force them to acts of unspeakable aggression. Each year, three of the most powerful of this hidden order meet to discuss their ongoing campaign of induced bloodshed and deliberate destruction. But this reunion, something will go terribly wrong. Saul’s quest is about to reach its elusive object, drawing hunter and hunted alike into a struggle that will plumb the depths of mankind’s attraction to violence, and determine the future of the world itself…

884 pages (paperback)
Published in: 1990
Author’s webpage


I am not well versed in horror. Nor am I well versed with Dan Simmons. Case and point, I’ve only read one Dan Simmons book all the way through and while I enjoyed it, many reviewers hated it (Ilium). Then I tried to read Olympos, and barely made it 100 pages before I had to put it down. Carrion Comfort may be, unless my pregnancy brain is striking again, the first true-blue-through-and-through horror book I’ve ever read. No, let me take that back. It is, however, the first one I’ve read with a blurb from Stephen King on the front cover.

Carrion Comfort is one of Simmons earlier works. It was first published in 1989 and again in 1990. The book itself takes place in 1980. Unless you specifically note the lack of computers and cell phones and some mentions of West Germany, you really wouldn’t notice the time period. Carrion Comfort is based on the concept of psychic vampires, for lack of a better term. These individuals feed off of other people by controlling their actions by manipulating their thoughts.

The psychic vampires are what made me want to read this book so badly. I thought it was an idea that was far too interesting to pass up. They are unique, and they do live up to the hype I had built for them in my mind in some ways. That being said, they did, often, toe the “this is so absurd it’s ridiculous” line. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book did affect my enjoyment of the work as a whole. If there had been less of those unbelievable-eye-roll-worthy scenes in the book, Carrion Comfort would have been far more haunting than it actually ended up being.

Another issue I had with Carrion Comfort as a whole is the length. The book is almost needlessly long, weighing in at nearly 900 pages, when I think the whole story could have been told just as well with two hundred fewer pages than it contained. This problem is blaringly evident with major portions of the plot painfully lagging for pages and pages, and other portions of the plot that are almost redundant in how they are handled. This also means that it took me nearly half the book to get really interested or engaged in the plot at all.

Despite these two rather large complaints, Carrion Comfort is incredibly well written in such a way that it can easily sink into the readers psyche and do what horror books are best at doing: give the reader the heebie-jeebies. The characters are incredibly interesting, if not completely compelling or believable. In fact, the most interesting and compelling characters are the ones that have the worst sense of morality. Simmons seems to shine when he is depicting individuals the reader will probably absolutely loath, while the characters on the other side of the coin seem almost boring in comparison.

Carrion Comfort is called a horror novel, but I think it reads more like a psychological thriller than anything else. There are plenty of psychological and political themes running throughout the work and an odd chess theme that serves to unify all the different plot points in the book, which wasn’t quite unique, but I’m sure the author thought it was.

Carrion Comfort is dirty, gritty, violent and bone chilling at parts. Its needless length and meandering plot that sometimes dips into being almost completely stagnant, however, balances this nicely. Carrion Comfort could have used a strict editor, which would have helped get rid of many aspects of the plot that just weren’t useful to the reader at all. This would have changed Carrion Comfort from being an entertaining read to a tightly wound, nicely paced, perfectly plotted, bone chilling work of horror. Instead, it was a solid 3-star book that took way too much effort to slog through and didn’t showcase the author’s talents nearly well enough.

3/5 stars

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