I was a latecomer to Dan Simmons fandom. While I liked Hyperion the very first time I read it, I couldn’t get into the sequels, I just didn’t care about his Olympos books, and his horror books that were recommended to me – The Terror and Carrion Comfort (both recommended by my younger brother) did not connect with me on my initial try of them. Each of them, I got through maybe 50-70 pages, and then never got any further. Apparently though, there is such a thing as “right time, right place,” and never have I experienced this as much as my recent readings of Simmons’ work (review of The Terror also coming soon).
Carrion Comfort was a book club read, much like The Dragon Waiting, and since I had already attempted this book years ago and not made it far, I was somewhat dreading it. Somehow, less than a week after I started it, I’m done with this doorstopper, basically never putting it down the entire week.
This was a great book. It was scary in all the right ways, and terrifying in ways that few other horror books ever accomplish for me. Despite the supernatural elements, there was something hideously real about the horror of the book. Something about the mind controllers completely overtaking the identity of the victims, and then discarding them as nothing more than trash (very similar to the way Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave or Robert Jordan’s Compulsion from The Wheel of Time work) rings true to me in a deeply bent, anti-Kantian/anti-Deontological sort of way.
The themes of the Holocaust and the Final Solution resonate through the entire book (and are major plot elements to boot) – the theme that there is a group (or are groups) of people who have both ultimate power over others, ultimate end-goals of use and abuse, and ultimate depravity to accomplish said goals. Every villain is heinous in a completely different way, and the protagonists and heroes have to reckon with this truth and in some ways, become villains themselves to eventually end the threats to themselves, their loved ones, and possibly the world.
There is a scene in the book where I did (despite my mention earlier about never putting the book down) actually have to step away for awhile. A home invasion scene only about one-fifth of the way through the book that was done so well and at the same time so terrifying and disturbing, I was was a little concerned about continuing the rest. If there’s an aspect in the horror/thriller/terror/suspense genres that gives me nightmares, it's these more mundane types – the kinds of things I can (and do) actually imagine happening to myself and my family.
Anyway, I finished it, and it now ranks with me as one of the best horror novels I’ve read. I place it next to Duma Key by Stephen King (easily his best work of the last 20+ years, and in my opinion better than most of his classics), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft (which has similar themes as Carrion Comfort for mental domination and discarding of people after they’ve been used up), and The Ritual, by Adam Nevill, a supernatural tale about an old-world cult that also made a great movie.
Read Carrion Comfort.