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I write and live with my beautiful wife, Sandra, and sons (Solstice, Finnegan and Brahms) in a little-big house on a dirt road in a valley in the hills. My secret identity struggles through the grind of teaching high school English to the denizens of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review of Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

How do people get away with all the horrible things they do? Why do some people seem to have an insane amount of gravity around them, causing others to follow them beyond reason and safety? Why is there so many tragedies where man inexplicably turns himself on his fellow man? Dan Simmons's epic horror novel, Carrion Comfort, provides some disturbing answers to these questions in a suspenseful and twisted fashion.

Set in 1980-81 (and published in 1989), Carrion Comfort features a world where some men (and a couple women) were born with the innate ability to control other people's minds and then feed off the psychic energy released when they kill or commit suicide. If that isn't disturbing enough, they gather together in tense conspiracies and play games with human lives as their chess pieces. Caught in the middle of these games between politicians, billionaires, Hollywood producers and television evangelists (all "mind-vampires") are a holocaust survivor, a southern sheriff and a beautiful young African-American woman.

I was fully enthralled by this masterwork of twisting plot lines, scheming villains and hapless, yet stouthearted heroes, with only one real complaint: the length. I am not saying this book is not worth the read, nor am I saying Dan Simmons doesn't know how to keep his reader's interests (just the opposite), but Carrion Comfort is an 884 page book. Around page 600 the reader begins to feel it, like a track and field runner about to hit his or her "wall". I believe I know why this happens and I believe that it happens because of quite positive and complimentary reasons.

1. Dan Simmons really knows how to create characters that are believable. When it comes to the protagonists, they are flawed, yet plucky folks who are faced with unremitting horror. We begin to feel the bleak existential malaise for them, as they struggle through one horrible situation after another. In this novel, Dan Simmons, did well in choosing a holocaust survivor as a central protagonist. If you have read Dan Simmons's Summer of Night (or just about any other book he has written), then you know just how brutal Mr. Simmons can be to his characters. He is perhaps one of the few real horror writers out there who can deliver no promises to you, the reader that your favorite character will survive even to the second half of the novel. Just warning you...

2. Dan Simmons is a master at shifting perspective, and I for one enjoy this kind of writing: writing that allows you many perspectives on the epic events unfolding before us. In this novel a great deal (perhaps the majority) of the time is spent in the perspective of these mind vampires. We begin to see so clearly from their perspective that we are drawn into their fiendish ambitions and morality begins to fade to gray, when we are carried along in the minds of the most vicious minds imaginable. How often have you wondered, what could be going through the heads of the some of the most powerful and dangerous people on the planet? Dan Simmons answers this question in adept fashion. As the answer begins to settle in, prepare yourself for a twisting ride of terror.

4 star rating out of 5.

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