I realize that I am late to the party when it comes to Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons. To be perfectly honest, I am 20 years late to the party, and the edition I picked up is the special anniversary re-issue. Be that as it may, Carrion Comfort is an epic novel, both in scope and content. It is quite possibly one of the best horror novels I have ever read, and the fact that it is two decades old makes the feat much more impressive. Dan Simmons is an amazing author, and I have had the pleasure of reading several of his books, and while they tend to be quite long, they do not dry up or plod on. In fact, even after going through 800 pages, I always wish there was more. Simmons has won the Hugo award for his Hyperion series, and the World Fantasy Award for Song of Kali, and it is obvious to me how deserving he is of praise and recognition.
Carrion Comfort is a brand new spin on the ages old vampire tale; a small group of beings with supernatural powers preying on the unsuspecting human race. However, there is no blood drinking, no crosses and holy water, no garlic. These “vampires” are able to control the minds of others, and use them to commit horrible acts of violence and hatred. The story begins in an extermination camp during the Holocaust and jumps around between then and 1980 for the most part, with small amounts of back story from various other times. What is chilling about the novel is that the most disturbing parts do not have any “vampires” at all, but merely people acting of their own free will. The scenes from the Holocaust are gut-wrenching, and really make you question what it means to be human. These scenes are neatly juxtaposed with the passion and love of the main characters as they stand true, and fight for all that they hold dear. While the whole” good versus evil” thing tends to be either overdone, or done so poorly that it makes your head hurt, Simmons avoids all the pitfalls that weaker authors tend to stumble into, and manages to tell the story without sounding trite.
Simmons also handles multiple timelines with ease, and manages to have six or seven main characters and storylines simultaneously, all without getting confusing, or verbose. Each individual story section tends to end with a cliffhanger, before flowing into an intersecting storyline that wraps up the cliffhanger from another characters point of view. The talent that Simmons demonstrates is humbling, and it is very clear why he is hailed as a master of the genre. He has taken the concept of horror and elevated it to an art form, and is a shining example of how horror can be, and should be, considered “literature.”
Another aspect of the novel that I must applaud is how Simmons avoids portraying his characters in simple black and white. Yes, most of the “vampires” are just evil, no shades of gray there, but there are some villains who seek redemption, some heroes who turn, and there is always a tiny spark of hope for the future, not only of the characters, but of mankind as a whole. The novel was outstanding, and I am very shocked that it has not garnered more praises over the past twenty years. It goes to show that the horror genre does not get the credit it deserves, and that critics tend to be snobs who more often than not choose never to venture outside of their comfort zone and take a chance on something other than the mainstream.
Drood, also by Simmons, has finally come out in paperback, and he has a brand new hardcover out called Black Hills so expect a review on that soon enough. If you have a lot of time to kill, or enjoy a nice long read, head to the store and grab pretty much anything by Simmons, but Carrion Comfort is a definite must.