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Los vampiros de la mente by Dan Simmons
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Los vampiros de la mente (original 1989; edition 1989)

by Dan Simmons, Manuel de Seabra (Translator)

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1,214246,570 (3.87)60
Member:Gargargom
Title:Los vampiros de la mente
Authors:Dan Simmons
Other authors:Manuel de Seabra (Translator)
Info:Barcelona : Ediciones B, 1992
Collections:Your library
Rating:**1/2
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Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (1989)

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English (23)  French (1)  All languages (24)
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My first book by Simmons, in the past I have been a fan of Stephen King and this was recommended on that basis.

The idea behind the novel is certainly an original one. Walking among us are people with the ability to control others with their mind. By doing this they also sort of feed off our mental energy. The exact number of these is unknown but as the story develops we find that they have had a hand in some of histories greatest events (such as Kennedys assassination). The book starts with Saul Laski a concentration camp prisoner, he is 'mind raped' by a camp commander and forced to act against his will. Over the coming years he continues to attempt to trace the commander to kill him for the intrusion.

Fast forward 30 years of so and we encounter 3 of the 'vampires' in the form of Willi, Melanie and Nina. They meet once a year to discuss the result of a 'completion' they have regarding number of victims and the way in which they were made to act. Meanwhile their fates and that of Laski (together with his new found companions Sheriff Gentry & Natalie) become intertwined as each fights for survival not only from each other but from that of the 'Island Club'. Politics and personal ambitions span the entire novel, accompanied with an extreme lust for power that makes men ruthless.

I won't go into the plot any further than this as there are a great many twists and turns throughout the novel that would be spoiled. Simmons has a knack for pulling the rug from under the reader at just the right time. I don't think that anyone could second guess the next chapter

I was toying with the rating to give this book. For me it was sold as a horror story and one of the creepiest books I was ever likely to read. On that basis I found it a let down. the horror and suspense when it arrived was not really all that horrific and to be honest for the size of the book these were few and far between. However, the characterisation was really well written and I found it easy to empathise with all the main characters, but at nearly 1000 pages I just found the main story dragged on a little too much. If Simmons could have shaved off 2-300 pages I am sure the book would have flown by, as it was I often found myself reading it at 50 page intervals without a real desire to turn the page. At times it seemed a struggle to continue. The other reason I failed to give 5 stars is that being a non chess player I found the drawn out descriptions of the moves in the game a little too much. I agree the game is instrumental for the story to fully work but pages and pages covering the game (even with a few helpful diagrams) proved too much.

All in all not a bad read but unfortunately as an introduction to the author it hasn't filled me with the desire to seek out more of his works. I have given the book 4 stars as I can see why it would appeal to some readers and it certainly does have it's merits. It just wasn't for me. ( )
  Bridgey | May 28, 2014 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 2002.

This is, perhaps, an answer to Frank Robinson’s The Power (a novel I have not read but have seen a movie adaptation of) which is also about a group of psychics squaring off against each other for dominance. (For that matter, Frederik Pohl’s Demon in the Skull is also about psychic possession, but I don’t think it influenced this novel.)

In tone, this is a horror novel, but its literary technique is that of sf. The psychic vampires (the word “vampires” is actually used) are described as very rare mutants who are able to alter the theta brainwaves of others to override their will and use their body and receive their sensations. Simmons' rationalization carefully ends there. He doesn’t describe how this synchronization of theta waves takes place nor how Using others to commit violent actions against the Used or others seems to extend the Users life and provide good health.

Though it serves as a novel plot twist and potent symbolism, Dr. Saul Laski’s hypnotically planted personalities of Jews who, in some way, resisted the Nazis were rationalized with the flimsiest of technical terms.

There’s a lot to like in this very long novel. Simmons essentially wrote a long thriller which bounces around from Charleston and Germany and Hollywood and the Mexican border and Washington D.C. and Philadelphia and Wyoming and Israel and Dolmann Island off the South Carolina coast. The Melanie sections, she's the most powerful of the Users, are narrated in the first person. The rest of the book is narrated in omniscient third person. Most of those sections concentrate on what character. Simmons puts in a lot of foreshadowing by bouncing back and forth in time between the various chapters. The Parts are labeled according to chess terminology: “Openings”, “Middle Game”, and “End Game”. This is a reference to the chess obsessed User and Nazi, Wilhelm Borchert. He and other users literally play a game of human chess at the novel’s beginning and end. The pieces are people being Used (including, in the showdown on Dolmann Island which goes on for 144 pages, less powerful Users controlled by C. Aaron Barent and Borchert). When a capture takes place, the person representing the captured piece is killed. (At the beginning, Borchert plays such a game using Jews.)

Simmons maintains the level of suspense, and the scenes of combat between various Users and others were exciting and gruesome (especially in the level of damage a Used person can endure). The death of Sheriff Gentry was unexpected since he seemed destined, as per the usual formula, to survive further into the novel than page 478. His death also cut short the usual cliche of a man and woman thrown together during the course of suspense plot becoming lovers and surviving until the end of the movie. Here Natalie Preston, whose father was casually killed by Melanie during combat with Nina Drayton, and old friend and fellow User, does have sex with Gentry once and his death (as well as her father’s) is strong motivation for the rest of her actions in the novel (which she survives). Natalie Preston and Laski are heroic characters, each conquering their fear and memories of being Used, to put an end to most of the Users.

However, it is the Users that Simmons does a nice job with. Most of the monsters have their own personalities though all are linked by their casual disregard for the life of the innocents they Use. Borchert is a game playing Nazi and film producer who dreams of bringing on Ragnarok with nukes and doesn’t see a reason why the world should survive his death. His arch opponent Barent, friend to Presidents, is risk averse and just as brutal with the ability to psychically induce loyalty. Yet, his final agreement to play Borchert’s chess game to determine the future policy of the Island Group (the status quo or converting the world to a chess board with nations and nukes as the pieces) rather than just gun down Borchert is not entirely explained. (Simmons throws in actual chess game diagrams for the Dolmann Island sequence.) Barent’s underling Kepler wants nothing to do with Borchert’s apocalytic notions.

Also unexplained are the motivations of Reverend Sutter who sincerely believes in the Christianity he preaches, who wants to make the United States the Christian nation it never was. He and Borchert are homosexual lovers, but it’s not clear if he backs Borchert because of a personal loyalty, because he secretly longs for Borchert’s apocalypse as a way to bring on the millennium, or if he thinks, for sexual reasons, he’s linked himself to the Antichrist (Borchert) because he’s fated to or wants to.

Another unexplained relationship is that of Tony Harod, a Hollywood film producer, whose only use of his psychic abilities is to Use women for sexual gratification. He unexpectedly falls in love with his secretary Maria Chen, a Neutral (a rare type of individual supposedly immune to being Used though Barent, when he shows the true extent of his power towards novel’s end, illustrates that’s not always true). Part of this may relate to a remark by Laski when he says that maybe the Jews’ problem during the Holocaust was they tried to hard to understand the Nazis’ motivations and the motives of others who hate them.

Perhaps, Simmons wants us to just see the nature of evil is ultimately not explainable. It must simply be fought. For that matter, human natures are shown as mysterious. Chen tells Harod that, after they truly seem to love each other, not to try to understand their new relationship, just accept it, that they love each other “because we have to”. Likewise, Gentry, Laski, and Natali instinctively know they can trust each other, and they prove correct. Laski, as a psychiatrist, is the only one who tries to really offer explanations of motivations. He mentions the moral theories of Leonard Kohlberg (who postulated that people move through stages of moral development and sometimes become stalled at a particular stage -- or never start their development at all) and speculates that Melanie Fuller is motivated by jealousy and repressed homosexual feelings toward Nina.

The sections with Melanie are good and blackly humorous, especially her remark, after killing several people, that people just don’t respect the spirit of Christmas anymore. She comes off as an insular, prejudiced (against blacks and Jews and Northerners) Southern belle with horrible powers -- powers that only grow stronger after she has a stroke. And I liked her belief that Nina survived the gunshot to the head Melanie administered because another User, Borchert, faked a telephone call from Nina to Melanie after Nina had been shot.

However, there were several cliches I didn’t like, and they all stem, I suspect, from a sort of secular humanism of Simmons. Sutter’s homosexuality is a repeat of the frequent cliche that devoutly religious people are guilty of the sins they condemn. His alliance with Borchert is a repeat of the cliche that religious fundamentalists necessarily yearn for apocalypse (though I believe some do as do some secularists). His remarks on the Founders being secular humanists seems a misreading of the importance of Christian ideals in America’s founding.

More important and egregious is the semi-glorification of the Philadelphia street gang Soul Brickyard that aids Laski, Natalie, and Gentry against Fuller. Granted they are Melanie’s victims, but Simmons glosses over their criminal nature. In the character of Marvin and Jackson, he seems to endorse the idea that blacks in 1980, the year the scene takes place, could mostly find advancement only in gangs. Further marring of the novel is Jackson’s remarks, towards the novel’s end, “Listen, babe, only three types of people in this world: mean motherfuckers, mean black motherfuckers, and mean white motherfuckers. Mean white motherfuckers are the worst because they’ve been at it the longest”. Simmons seems in sympathy with this. Further evidence is depicting, briefly, Reagan as a lackey of Barent (to be fair, most Presidents are).

Sprinkled throughout the thriller plot are brief discussions on the morality of violence, and, to be fair, Simmons seems to endorse a rational view of violence. Laski rejects Borchert’s notions that Israeli violence is like Nazi violence. Laski draws a distinction between the violence of defense against victimization and violence for profit and fun. Laski and Natalie argue about what to do against the innocent, but deadly, Used. They both come to see the need to, on occasion, harm innocents. (Laski worries they are becoming like the Palestinian terrorists he despises.) The Users, therefore, serve a symbolic function as to the motives of human violence or, at least, certain habitually violent types. (I liked that Harod, who seemed to be reforming after surviving the horrors of Dolmann Island and betraying his lover Chen, is shot to death by a starlet he Used earlier in the novel. Justice is served.)

However, in the final chapter, Simmons loads a little too much symbolic freight on the vampires. Melanie survives the novel’s events (I’m not sure how many novels used the monster-that-will-not-die end.) and, inspired by her old friend Wili Borchert, thinks about setting off the grand Feeding of a nuclear apocalypse. Maintaining nuclear weapons is not done for the same reasons that the Users killed people but in the same spirit of the Warsaw dead Laski resurrects in his body and mind -- those who will not become victims. I’m not sure Simmons thinks different. He may just be noting nuclear weapons are available to the moral imbeciles represented by Melanie.
( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 7, 2014 |
One of my all time favorite books. I've read it about 3 times in Dutch and now finally have an English copy. Must guess when I read this.
This book is about vampires but not about the normal vampires but these are mental vampires. They can take control of your mind and body and I love it!
(Oops just discovered I have written in the book the day i received it. On 1991 Sinterklaas day in my country. ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
A fascinating concept of "vampires" that feed on violent acts and are able to bend the will of most of the rest of the human population through a sort of parasitical mind control if they choose. Now, blend in that there's a sort of war going on among the vampires, and that they can't always identify each other and that they truly believe that they are a superior being compared to the people they use, and you've got the making of a very good thriller-horror-fantasy story. Simmons' uses his creatures to explain some real historical events that have evoked the "how could that happen?" question, such as Hitler's rise to power and how some Hollywood movies get made.

However, this book is a case of too much of a good thing. It really should have been two books. In fact, it reads like two books with a huge final act battle scene right in the very middle, then going back to suspense building narrative. It takes a LOT of characters to support a book this long, and although Simmons' does an a good job of labeling chapters so that you know who's POV you're switching to, a story shouldn't need a road map to keep you from getting lost. ( )
  DJRMel | Apr 3, 2013 |
A fascinating concept of "vampires" that feed on violent acts and are able to bend the will of most of the rest of the human population through a sort of parasitical mind control if they choose. Now, blend in that there's a sort of war going on among the vampires, and that they can't always identify each other and that they truly believe that they are a superior being compared to the people they use, and you've got the making of a very good thriller-horror-fantasy story. Simmons' uses his creatures to explain some real historical events that have evoked the "how could that happen?" question, such as Hitler's rise to power and how some Hollywood movies get made.

However, this book is a case of too much of a good thing. It really should have been two books. In fact, it reads like two books with a huge final act battle scene right in the very middle, then going back to suspense building narrative. It takes a LOT of characters to support a book this long, and although Simmons' does an a good job of labeling chapters so that you know who's POV you're switching to, a story shouldn't need a road map to keep you from getting lost. ( )
  DJRMel | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Epigraph
"Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man

In me or, most weary, cry I can no more..."

—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Dedication
This is for Ed Bryant
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Saul Laski lay among the soon-to-die in a camp of death and thought about life.
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Carrion Comfort was published in France as L'Échiquier du mal in multiple editions. There was a single volume (combined with the main Carrion Comfort work), a two volume set and a four volume set. The boxed sets are combined into the main Carrion Comfort work, but the individual volumes should not be combined together.
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THE PAST... Caught behind the lines of Hitler’s Final Solution, Saul Laski is one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. Until he rises to meet his fate and finds himself face to face with an evil far older, and far greater, than the Nazi’s themselves…

THE PRESENT... Compelled by the encounter to survive at all costs, so begins a journey that for Saul will span decades and cross continents, plunging into the darkest corners of 20th century history to reveal a secret society of beings who may often exist behind the world's most horrible and violent events. Killing from a distance, and by darkly manipulative proxy, they are people with the psychic ability to 'use' humans: read their minds, subjugate them to their wills, experience through their senses, feed off their emotions, force them to acts of unspeakable aggression. Each year, three of the most powerful of this hidden order meet to discuss their ongoing campaign of induced bloodshed and deliberate destruction. But this reunion, something will go terribly wrong. Saul’s quest is about to reach its elusive object, drawing hunter and hunted alike into a struggle that will plumb the depths of mankind’s attraction to violence, and determine the future of the world itself…
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Three elderly friends, who possess supernatural powers and who feed off of emotions generated during the murders they orchestrate, meet every year to discuss their game, an ongoing competition of mass murder and vampirism.

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