Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Carrion Comfort, Dan Simmons (1989)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok
Rating: 4 Pierogies

Review: The following quote is on the front cover of the newest edition of Carrion Comfort:

"'Carrion Comfort' is one of three greatest horror novels of the twentieth century. Simple as that."- Stephen King.

That's one hell of an endorsement. Carrion Comfort also won the Bram Stoker Award in 1989 and is a British Fantasy Award winner and a World Fantasy Award nominee (1990). It didn't take a bunch of awards and endorsements to convince me to read this 636 page horror masterpiece though. This is Dan Simmons and it is about mind vampires. I love Dan Simmons and I love vampire stories so I was onboard from the get-go. Well, "vampires" isn't really an accurate description. The monsters in this book are not literal vampires (ha ha "literal vampires"), they are individuals that have the psychic ability to subvert the will of other humans. They can enter your mind and completely control your body and its functions, make you do whatever they want, erase your memories, read your mind, perceive through your senses and turn you into a slave basically. Those who survive describe it as a rape. These "mind vampires" or "Users" feed off the exertion of their power over others and it helps them to age slowly and remain energetic. There are only a couple dozen mind vampires in every generation but as it turns out that is more than enough to do alot of damage. It is not suprising that these mind vampires are extremely successful, rich and powerful generally (think titans of industry, famous evangelists, politicians and Hollywood producers) and that they are behind alot of the world's tragedies.

Carrion Comfort revolves around a small group of these mind vampires and their power struggles which manifest through sick and twisted "games" played with human beings as disposable pawns. [I can't type the word "pawn" withouth thinking of Stefano from Days of Our Lives, "You are my paaaawn John Black..." okay sorry]. No one is safe and anyone will be used and discarded if it suits the mind vampires' purposes - including children. There is alot of horrifying stuff going on here and it is infuriating to read about innocent decent people being used and killed in such awful ways.

However, there are good guys in this book who are fighting back led by Saul Laski, a holocaust survivor who is hell bent on tracking down an old nazi mind vampire, who not suprisingly, had a gay old time torturing residents of the nazi concentration camps with his Ability.

As with all Dan Simmons books, Carrion Comfort has a ton of characters and numerous plot lines going at once. As is also true with all Dan Simmons books, Carrion Confort is freaking awesome. Some argue that it is too long, a typical criticism of Dan Simmons. Although I usually disagree, in this case I think there are a couple of places where the story could have been shortened. The "Middle Game" portion of the book was definitely too long. I also found myself getting annoyed with the length of some of the fight sequences. There are probably a hundred or more such sequences in the book and some just wouldn't end. It got to the point where I didn't even care if anyone survived, I just wanted to get back to the story. I also didn't care about the good-guy protagonists that much. As such, despite its size, there was a lack of character development although this isn't a character study book so I didn't really care.

One thing Carrion Comfort did that I enjoyed was telling parts of the story from the points of view of two of the villians. I LOVE IT when authors so this (shout out to George R.R. Martin). Tony Harod is a slime ball Hollywood producer who uses his power mainly to rape women. Many chapters are told from his perspective although Simmons still uses a third person narrative. Many other chapters are told from the perspective of Melanie Fuller, an elderly Charleston resident and mind vampire. Her chapters are the only ones told in the first person and her chapters are the best by far.

Melanie Fuller is perhaps the most powerful and most evil mind vampire alive. The other mind vampires try to use her in their games because she seems so old, isolated and "out of it" but are soon reminded that, as in chess, the queen is the most dangerous piece on the board. Melanie's dangerous not only because of her superior abiliy but also because she is nuttier than squirrel poo. She doesn't even realized she is part of a greater power struggle (which is rather amusing) and is completely obsessed only with herself and her comfort. Her amazing powers protect her from harms that she is too self-centered and stupid to recognize. While the other mind vampires are obsessed with controlling world events and their internal power struggles Melanie just wants to live in isolated comfort and pretend that the world never changed from the segregated South she so loved. Her desires (to be left alone and live in comfort) are comparatively modest compared to some of the others but she is willing to use people in the most horrifying ways to achieve this goal. Her chapters are funny because she has all the normal old lady afflictions (thinks young girls dress like sluts, just wants to eat toast) but has no morals whatsoever. None. It is funny in a dark way how breathtaking her lack of morality is to behold being an old lady and all. She is also completely racist and says the most outrageous things. Her ability has rendered her emotionally retarded so she is also juvenile, needy and immature in many ways. All that weird baggage combined with her ridiculous power make her the most entertaining character by far.

I am not sure if Simmons was trying to make any greater social commentary in this book. Perhaps it is just coincidence that all the mind vampires are white and those fighting them are minorities (jews and blacks mainly) - but probably not. There are obvious corollaries in Carrion Comfort regarding the subrogation of minorities in society and history generally and specifically in the story. Simmons also takes alot of time in analyzing the nature of human violence and the moral implications associated sacrificing innocent life to survive and/or defeat evil (often times tying this anaylsis to the Israel-Palestinian conflict). I'm sure someone could devote alot of time and energy into studying these aspects of the book although I think it is fine to just enjoy the ride too.

Carrion Comfort is a massive book and will be a time investment to read. However, if you like horror and action and imagination I think you will find it very worth your time. I love you Dan Simmons!!!

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read anything by Dan Simmons since The Rise of Endymion, over 6 months ago. I decided to read Carrion Comfort in an impulse - I was curious as to how good his horror will be.