"Carrion Comfort" (part 2)

"Carrion Comfort" (part 2)

What makes Carrion Comfort fascinating is the absolute reach of power the cabal of mind vampires have. They can effortlessly manipulate any law enforcement agency, any government office at the drop of a hat. Worse, they can kill anyone, anywhere, without fear of reprisal or repercussion. With a snap of their fingers, they can call in a Navy battleship as their own escort. They are not only unstoppable, they are untouchable. They are unimaginably evil and unimaginably powerful. It's enough to make you put the book down and honestly wonder how in God's name they can be stopped...and then you pick the book up again to find out.

It's good vs. evil with the cards hopelessly stacked against the good guys; Simmons induces the heart-sinking feeling of failure quite well, as the initial volleys by Laski, Preston and Gentry are easily (and fatally) repelled. Eventually, the protagonists are forced to play by the mind vampire's rules, and that's where the story gets occasionally fuzzy. With everybody playing games and trying to outsmart one another, things become confusing, especially with Simmons' use of flashbacks (akin to Quentin Tarantino's methodology). Sometimes I found myself tuning out until the narrative caught up with the action again, or backtracking to keep track of which character was spying on which character. Again, for a story of this magnitude, a plot of less intricacy would have felt like a letdown. Simmons sets very lofty goals, maybe some beyond his reach, but he makes a hell of an effort getting there.

What Simmons does remarkably well - disturbingly well, even - is narrate the story from behind the eyes of one of the mind vampires. Whether it's her callous disregard for human life, her inherent racism, her contempt of law enforcement, or the belief that consequences don't apply to her, Simmons writes it so naturally that you can feel it - the way she looks at us, fellow human being, as her slaves, her toys, her dinner. These are antagonists we can hate, we can despise. Sure, some of them are stereotypes (old, rich white guys, racists, sexists, anti-Semites and a morally-corrupt televangelist), but they easily infiltrate and invade everything we hold dear - the sanctity of our bodies and of our minds. To them, we're nothing more than pawns on a chessboard, to be played with and then discarded. Sure, some of them are stereotypes, but the sheer depths of their power and inhumanity make them both fascinating and brilliant.

Simmons introduces interesting bio-evolutionary, psychology and pseudo-neuroscience to explain the power of the mind vampires. It's surprisingly accessible (if not scientifically robust), and it's presented well enough to make you wonder if the Ability exists solely within the realms of fiction.

Where Carrion Comfort falls short is the characterization of its antagonists (there's not one of them we can feel for?) and a complex plot. There's a twist ending to make things interesting, but such is the journey to the climax that we're left panting and exhausted - satisfied, to be sure (quite satisfied, in fact), but enough is enough. Given the enormity of the events in the book, and the sheer evil of the mind vampires, maybe a clean ending would have worked better. 

That said, Carrion Comfort is an epic (in all senses of the word) read, that has a little bit of something for everyone. Put it all together, and you have a monster of a book. It might not give you nightmares, but it'll make you look at everybody on the bus twice.