Review: Imagine a world in which your mind is but a toy — one to be played with at a User's whim. Imagine a world where someone can merely touch you and at once be able to control your actions — forcing you to commit horrible acts, but yet you are completely incapable of stopping it. This trance-like state is a mindrape, and it is the frightening focus of Dan Simmons' novel, Carrion Comfort. Nina, Willi, and Melanie are geriatric Users with the Ability. They've perfected the art of seizing another's mind and using it to their advantage, and through Feedings, they are given renewed youth and seem to be unstoppable. The three friends carry on a frightening game — where they compare their Feedings and compete for honor. But, the onset of new players and old victims takes Nina's life and leaves the other two in a new game of horror.
Carrion Comfort begins in the concentration camps in Chelmno in 1942. Saul Laski is but a boy searching for a way to survive the Holocaust. This is when he first experiences a mindrape. He is placed as a pawn in a chess game — literally. The Oberst (Willi) Uses prisoners in the most violent chess game imaginable. In Saul's description (40 years later) he recalls, "The Oberst nodded again and the pawn to my left, a gaunt, older man with gray stubble on his cheeks, lurched two squares forward. The Old Man responded by advancing his own king's pawn. I could tell by watching the way the poor, confused prisoners moved that they were not in control of their own bodies." When two pieces come together, death is imminent — either through murder or suicide — all the while those with the Ability are controlling the minds of the "playing pieces". Ultimately, Saul escapes and lives a respectful life of a psychiatrist in America where he meets the daughter of a victim murdered as a result of the same unspeakable acts Saul had witnessed 40 years before. He shares his stories and together Saul and Natalie pledge to end this madness forever. But, they quickly realize that more people hold the Ability to mindrape and the stakes become increasingly higher. Nevertheless, they will not give up; they are willing to risk their lives to rid the world of these horrifying people who could potentially be at the center of all evil in the world.
At first glance, Carrion Comfort is intriguing. Horror, suspense, "mind vampires," all sound like perfect components to a great "sit up with a flashlight until it's finished" book. But, unfortunately it isn't that at all. Instead it is a relatively predictable 767 page epic that has moments of suspense, but ends up failing in the end. First off, something about geriatric villains is difficult to take. It is honestly hard to be afraid of a little old lady who ends up on life support. Oddly, her weakened physical state somehow strengthens her Ability, which should in itself be more frightening, but it isn't. The heroes of the story are likeable people, and generally well developed, but they too lack the spark to make the readers really care. The most interesting character is Tony Harod, who in fact changes throughout the story from an evil User who commits unspeakable crimes against women, to a man who actually falls in love and ultimately seems to convert. The depth of Harod's character is needed from all characters. The novel is also divided into chapters from 3rd person point of view, to chapters in the 1st person where Melanie (the evil old woman) recounts what's happening. Unfortunately, the same scene is too often interpreted in two different chapters. This is often very effective, but after so many chapters of repeats, it gets belaboring, and skimming takes over. Actually, Melanie's chapters are the most interesting and added the most insight into the plot. Finally, the plot is fascinating, but because of the length and back stories, it gets lost somewhere around page 300. Dan Simmons hit on a gem when he developed the ideas present in Carrion Comfort, but the gem needs polishing — shave off a few layers (say 400 pages) and he'd have a perfect stone.
Special thanks to Alex Nauert for contributing his review of Carrion Comfort.
Acknowledgment: St. Martin's Griffin provided a trade paperback edition of Carrion Comfort for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Alex Nauert — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in Carrion Comfort:
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Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $19.99