6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journal of a genius in a man-made hell
Few novels have been able to portray genius convincingly, let alone in the genius's own words, but "Camp Concentration" manages to do both. Add to this a plot that explores the paradoxes of human nature, a narrative that's tragic and darkly comic by turns, and a cast of memorable larger-than-life characters, and the result isn't just superb science fiction,...
Published on 19 Aug 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Daring if flawed speculative fiction
This is a difficult novel.It starts out with more than it promises earlier in the book.Like Louis Sattachi's brain,it starts to degenerate and becomes incomprehensible.This is a shame,as it is a very readable book with a quite polished prose,and as an experimental novel,has much to commend it,but unfortunetly is flawed in,and doesn't stand-up in expression and...
Published 3 months ago by Richard Fahey
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journal of a genius in a man-made hell,
By A Customer
Few novels have been able to portray genius convincingly, let alone in the genius's own words, but "Camp Concentration" manages to do both. Add to this a plot that explores the paradoxes of human nature, a narrative that's tragic and darkly comic by turns, and a cast of memorable larger-than-life characters, and the result isn't just superb science fiction, it's also great literature. "Camp Concentration" stands with other science fiction classics--Daniel Keyes' "Flowers For Algernon", Walter M Miller's "A Canticle For Liebowitz" and Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"--in using the genre to tell us profound truths about ourselves.
So what's the story? It's the 1970s and the US is fighting a land war in Asia. If this sounds like history remember that Disch is writing in 1968, so to him it's the future; one in which the Asian conflict has spun out of control, America is losing its edge, and battlefield nukes and germ weapons are being deployed. These horrors are never described, but suggested in tiny chilling clues--overheard rumors, the cover of a news magazine, a reluctance to shake hands for fear of catching something deadly. This is appropriate, because the book's real battlefield is not Malaysia, plague-ravaged California, or indeed anywhere on the planet. It is the human soul, from which all these nightmares have sprung.
In particular it's the soul of Louis Sacchetti, a good Catholic boy who's been thrown into jail for refusing to fight. Louis is a poet, a smugly superior intellectual who's suffering (a bit too enthusiastically) a spiritual martyrdom at the hands of his inferior fellow men. And yet he's baffled by these ordinary guys, with their ironclad faith in the war and their sincere belief in the rightness of killing. He's bright, but he's no Einstein. Not yet anyway.
Inexplicably transferred to Camp Archimedes, an Army-funded think tank buried somewhere deep underground, Louis finds himself tasked with recording the lives of its inmates. These are convicts like himself: conchies, deserters, petty criminals--ordinary guys except for their ferocious IQ. Louis is shaken to discover that they have volunteered to be infected with a disease that supercharges their intelligence while at the same time rotting their bodies and brains.
Louis agonizes over whether he would accept this Devil's bargain: a degrading death in exchange for nine months of Olympian insight into the workings of the Universe. He decides not. But such understanding leads down disturbing byways: Louis's old schoolmate Mordecai Washington, now at the height of his superhuman intelligence, claims to have figured out God's real purpose in creating man.
Already troubled by these developments, Louis begins to suffer migraines that bring startling new insights, bouts of fever during which he writes complex and beautiful poetry. Gradually he becomes convinced that Mordecai has hit on the truth about the Divine plan.
Meanwhile, Modecai and his colleagues are about to perform their Magnum Opus: the creation of the alchemist's centuries-old dream, the Philosopher's Stone. Can they cheat death by concocting the elixir of everlasting youth? Or are they really, as the increasingly brilliant Louis suspects, pulling some dazzling and incomprehensible confidence trick on their jailers?
By writing "Camp Concentration" as a journal, Thomas Disch tells the story of Louis' rise to genius and descent into terminal insanity in the poet's own words. This gives a visceral punch to ideas that might otherwise seem dry and abstract; Louis' intellectual and physical pain, so eloquently and uncompromisingly expressed, forces us to confront the sobering moral lessons of the past century. And yet the book does not end on a bleak note; at its close there is a very real sense of optimism--an acknowledgment that we may all carry within us the seeds, however undeserved, of our own redemption.
The subject matter of "Camp Concentration" is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. At times it can be daunting, but if you like being challenged and want more from science fiction than comic-book action, this one's for you. Stick with it and I guarantee you'll come out the other side well rewarded. They don't come much better than this.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Partially Succeeds in an Ambitious Goal,
It's evident that Disch set out with the goal in mind of writing a more "literary" sort of science fiction novel than was or is prevalent in the genre. He gets about 4/5s of the way there, actually.
Disch's verbal abilities and his mental dexterity are commendable, and are well displayed here. He is less successful at constructing plot intricacies, character development, and dramatic structure. Though it ties in with the plot, Disch's Pynchonesque linguistic display, which reaches a crescendo in the early part of Book Two, come off as the product of a young writer having fun with a highlighter and an unabridged OED.
It's interesting that this novel was published about half a year after Daniel Keyes came out with a very similar book <Flowers for Algernon,> later adapted into a play and then a movie <Charly>. The idea had been around since Keyes first wrote the novella version in 1959. The idea is basically the same. Scientists come up with a formula that makes brain processes accelerate, the subjects become brilliant for a while and then the unforeseen consequences set in. Charly returns to his mentally retarded state, Sacchetti lapses into the final stages of a degenerative disease (syphilis).
Disch does introduce some interesting ideas along the way, however. The effect on the artistic mind of syphilis, in particular, has long been a subject of conjecture. Though some arguments are a lot shakier (Beethoven) than others (de Mauppassant, Nietszche), the subject is definitely open to debate. Disch works such speculation into his story quite effectively. There is also the matter of the way in which the agent (The Palladine) is spread through the surface population (by sexual means) by a rebellious researcher. It does rather spookily prefigure the coming aids epidemic, and probably had some influence on later novelists such as Crichton and King.
There is enough talent, brains and imagination on display here to appeal to "general" readers as well as Sci-Fi aficionados. It's at times intentionally obfuscating, but that's confined to a relatively brief section as the narrator undergoes a mental breakdown. The rest is highly readable. I will definitely seek out more works by the author.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Side of Grey Matter,
This book appears on most of the 'best of' science fiction lists that various pundits and critics have put out, even though it is not a very commonly known work. Does it deserve such a placing? I think the answer to that depends upon what your viewpoint is about what science fiction, as a form of literature, is supposed to accomplish.
The idea is simple enough. A new drug, developed from the bacteria that causes syphilis, is found to have the property of greatly increasing a person's intelligence, but with major side effect - it kills the user in about nine months. The story follows one Louis Sacchetti, a conscientious objector to a seemingly interminable war, and who would already be considered to be a genius by most standards, as he is transferred from a standard prison to a facility specially constructed to see what will happen to its inmates when given this drug. The story is told through the means of a journal that Louis is encouraged, almost forced, to keep.
As this idea is extremely similar to that of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon (which was later made into the movie Charly), comparison is invited. Flowers emphasizes the tragedy of the hero, a man who struggles to find those bits of knowledge that will help not just himself but all mankind, up against an unbeatable problem, that of his own death. Camp Concentration follows a completely different path, that of the essential selfishness of the individual, of nihilism, of the despair of ever being able to change humanity in any meaningful way. The inmates that Louis initially documents are apparently using their greatly enhanced intelligence to investigate alchemy as a means of providing immortality, not for humanity in general, but for themselves and the 'warden' of this prison, Humphrey Haast. Louis, meanwhile, seems caught up in crafting new poems and a play, entitled 'Auswitch, A Comedy'. The title is indicative of something Disch does throughout this book, playing with names and titles to produce another layer of meaning behind the straightforward words, and is fairly effective in doing so.
The tone is the primary thing here, a very dark, brooding atmosphere, enlivened by a very wide ranging vocabulary and many references, both buried and open, to other works of literature (most especially Dante), and scientific and psychological theories. Readers who are not familiar with these references may feel a little lost at places in this book - at least I did, as my breadth of knowledge in these areas is clearly more limited than Disch's. But from this tone, Disch develops his themes of the corruption of man, of his baser desires, the absolute horrors of what man is capable of, and where such capacity leads. As such, this book is almost the complete antithesis of Flowers for Algernon - that is, until the ending of this book.
The ending of this book, I felt, rather drastically detracted from its overall message, as it doesn't seem to fit with the rest, and has a little of a deus-ex-machina feel to it. Given the many layered discourse that Disch presented in the rest of the book, which while sometimes difficult to follow, was certainly excellent writing, this ending was a disappointment.
While this is certainly a major entry into the dystopian side of science fiction literature, whether it truly qualifies as a 'classic' will be, I'm afraid, very much a matter of opinion for a long time to come. But it is certainly worth reading, if for nothing else than to see the darker side of genius competently presented.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
3.0 out of 5 stars Daring if flawed speculative fiction,
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This is a difficult novel.It starts out with more than it promises earlier in the book.Like Louis Sattachi's brain,it starts to degenerate and becomes incomprehensible.This is a shame,as it is a very readable book with a quite polished prose,and as an experimental novel,has much to commend it,but unfortunetly is flawed in,and doesn't stand-up in expression and execution.
Despite this,it isn't such a bad book I suppose,and has some very interesting ideas.
Would recommend it to someone who is tired of the run-of-the-mill fiction,and wants something different.
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark, dark, dark world,
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A science fiction book that I've wanted to own a copy of since first reading somebody else's in the early 1970s. It's a pity, and probably a bit silly, that the Science Fiction Masterworks edition that was once listed never came about.
It's set in a dystopian future, and is thus quite dark.
It's full of literary references and quotes, some of them probably invented, the main character's poetry particularly of course.
There are one or two short scenes that take on a tone from William Burroughs, when the main character is feeling unwell, but most of the book is more approachable.
I personally prefer books where the narator tells a story, in this, the book is set out as a diary/journal, that usually grates on me, this grates less than most in that way, but I would still have preferred a different style of story telling, it is still a good story though.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
This was a super novel to read - As others have pointed out, this is perhaps the more literal-type of Sci-fi than one would not normally expect, it does require a little bit more of attention in order to appreciate the quality of the work. It is quite sublime in the context of its writing, the author has clearly intended this to be a seriously excellent example of this genre
4.0 out of 5 stars Camp Concentration (1968) - Thomas M. Disch,
CAMP CONCENTRATION is a lean, thought provoking novel from Thomas M. Disch. Written in journal form, the novel tracks the journey of a human guinea pig who's subjected to harsh experiments in order to create a smarter being. Of course the experiemnts have side effects, and they exist on many levels. Camp Concentration can be seen is an allegory to mankind, and all the wrong we've done to each other in the name of progress. A haunting work that has an unexpected, but meaningful ending.
****1/2 out of *****
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Excellent, Excellent,
By A Customer
Camp Concentration is one of my favorite books. You know the story: I read it years ago, and I loved it. Unfortunately old books fall apart eventually (especially cheap paperbacks) and I lost one of the great treasures of SF. Standard cliched SF lover experience. Well, way to go Vintage Books (who put Bester's work back into print by the way) for getting this classic novel back into print. This is undoubtedly Disch's most entertaining novel, but Disch will certainly make you think.
Imagine what happens when the Government secretly takes a couple dozen prisoners and injects a drug (actually a bacteria related to syphillis) into them. Their intellect skyrockets, but their bodies are ravaged. There is no cure, and thus all of the prisoners die after a few months of God-like intelligence. Camp Concentration is the extraordinary tale of one such patient/prisoner.
Certainly easier to get through than Disch's later works like 334 and On Wings of Song, yet just as intellectually sound, it's the perfect introduction to one of the genre's finest authors.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating premise, but a narrative that bogs down,
By A Customer
Thomas Disch has written an unusual and nightmarish tale of war, disease, and government skullduggery that makes for fascinating reading-- most of the way through. It is frightening but true that his premise that the government might secretly develop and test a disease organism that augments intelligence but then kills seems more credible today than it did when he wrote the story decades ago.
However, as the story develops, Disch's narrative slips further and further into a succession of obscure literary, philosophical, and religious allusions that only those steeped deeply in arcane intellectual works will understand, let alone appreciate. There are lengthy passages that I found frustratingly obscure, and overall, I felt that in the last part of the novel the work loses its original sharp edge and intensity. Perhaps for the chosen few with the proper intellectual pedigree to connect with the veritable cavalcade of allusions, quotations, and metaphors, the work will seem far more meaningful. For the rest of us, it ends up being an interesting but in some ways unsatisfying read.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing and boring,
If I could have given the book 2.5 stars I would have.
I bought this book expecting a real engrossing read, however, I found myself feeling like an illiterate monkey, desperately trying to fight my way through a book which reads like a philosophical dissertation reference page. I enjoyed the basic story of the book; the strange setting and surreal nature of the prisoners surroundings, but found the main character very unlikable, pompous (although I think he is meant to be) and above all boring!
The other main character, Mordecai, I found to be of a similar ilk. The author seems to want to make the reader feel inferior to the main characters, and to an extent I understand that this may have been the purpose considering the plot, however, instead of making me respect the author for involving my feelings in the actual narrative and story, I felt frustrated and stupid at not knowing the referenced books and poetry. It seems in order to understand what the narrator is talking about you must be extremely well read. I consider myself to be quite well read but no where near enough to enjoy this disappointing novel.
The actual plot is based around a conscientious objector (Sacchetti) to a war that is never really elaborated on (although this doesn't really matter plot-wise). He is moved from a normal prison to an underground base where the prisoners are being experimented on (prisoners are injected with a form of syphilis intended to make them geniuses). The experiments are revealed to Sachetti and he chooses to take part in them. The book then describes the relationship build between Sacchetti and Mordecai in a very slow and laborious manner, that seems to be it until a nice twist at the end, which I must admit I didn't see coming, but none the less leaves you wishing the author had bothered to write a good story from what was such a promising idea.
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Camp Concentration (Abandoned) (S.F. Masterworks) by Thomas M. Disch (Paperback - 10 Aug 2006)
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