Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Carrion Comfort

From the old site...

Before he made his biggest splash in science fiction (Hyperion, Endymion), Dan Simmons made his mark writing horror, which was at the end of its boom when he began publishing. His first novel, Song of Kali, won the World Fantasy Award, and he followed it in 1989 with the ambitious Carrion Comfort. It, too, was a success, and started moving Simmons into King/Straub territory, before he left the field for a few years after Summer of Night.

Carrion Comfort is an epic scale novel (the paperback version is 900 pages long, while the oversized hardback I read was 650 pages). Set in 1980, it is Simmons’ unusual take on the vampire legend. In the novel, his vampires don’t feed on blood, but rather control the minds of others, reducing them to catspaws. The plot begins with three old “mind vampires” who for years have been playing a type of game, forcing their thralls to commit murders and awarding points based on the notoriety and shock value of the killing. They are utterly immoral, and view others as tools to be used and discarded at a whim.

One of the three is a former SS Oberst, who is recognized by a Jewish survivor of the concentration camp he used as a playground during World War II. Determined to put an end to him, the survivor and his allies become caught in the middle of a bloody struggle involving the three older Users and a group of upstarts that ultimately threatens the fate of the world.

With its length and convoluted plot, this isn’t the world’s easiest read, but it is well worth it. Simmons’ mind vampires are truly chilling, and the book is well worth the effort for anyone willing to take the time. My only quibble would be some of the minor characters, mostly stooges of the bad guys, are too difficult to keep separated in my mind. Highly recommended.


Craig Clarke said...

This one is a classic. As much as Simmons has lately proved himself to be a bit of a tool, his early writing still stands up.

It's too bad I refuse to read doorstoppers like this anymore; I'm sure I'm missing out on some great reads.

KentAllard said...

Yeah, I'm of the opinion that Simmons' has let his justifiable praise go to his head, to the detriment of his work. It's a shame, since this one, Song of Kali and Summer of Night are great horror novels.