Carrion Comfort – by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons (Dark Harvest, 1989): An expansion of a novella of psychic vampirism by the same title (Omni, September-October 1983). Nina and Melanie, a pair of antebellum Charleston belles, and Willi, a German aristocrat, meet to perpetuate their long-term rivalry in what they variously call the Game, the Hunt, or simply Feeding.

Ordinary human beings except for their mutant ability to drive others to violence by sheer mental force, they have learned to extend life and vitality indefinitely by feeding on the deaths they cause.

The story begins with an explosive confrontation in which Nina, after supposedly destroying Willi, attempts to kill Melanie as well. The novella, told in the first person by Melanie, ends with her apparent victory over Nina.

The novel expands the story to epic proportions, concluding with a Hunt on a private island, along the lines of Richard Connell's classic short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924). Opposing the psychic vampires are Saul Laski, a professor who began to suspect their nature when he crossed paths with Willi in a concentration camp, Bobby Joe Gentry, a Southern sheriff who delightfully subverts the stereotype of that character, and Natalie Preston, intelligent, courageous daughter of a black man accidentally killed in the random slaughter generated by Nina and Melanie's initial combat.

Though almost nine hundred pages long, Carrion Comfort compels the reader's attention, and despite the large number of violent deaths, the author manages to make us go on caring about the characters. He even elicits an unwilling sympathy for Melanie, cruel, self-centered, and paranoid though she is. Carrion Comfort, in my opinion, is the finest fictional treatment of psychic vampirism yet produced.


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