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Camp Concentration Paperback – 1 Mar 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Vintage Books ed edition (1 Mar. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705458
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.1 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,280,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Thomas M. Disch is one of the overlooked masters of science fiction, and Camp Concentration is one of his finest novels. The unlikely hero of this piece is Louis Sacchetti, an overweight poet who's serving a five- year prison term for being a "conchie", or conscientious objector, to the ongoing war being fought by the United States. Three months into his sentence, Sacchetti is mysteriously taken from prison and brought to Camp Archimedes, an underground compound run by General Humphrey Haast. This is the so-called "camp concentration" of the book's title, a strange oubliette where inmates are given a drug that will raise their intelligence to astounding levels, though it will also kill them in a matter of months.

Sacchetti's job is to chronicle the goings-on at Archimedes in a daily journal that is sent to Haast and other select members of the project. Through his writings, readers get to know the various characters that inhabit the camp, geniuses whose intellectual fires burn brightly even while their bodies slowly go cold. Although these latter-day Einsteins are supposed to be thinking up new ways of killing the enemy, most of the inmates are instead focusing their studies on alchemy, which Haast hopes will allow them to discover the secret of immortality.

Camp Concentration is one of those SF books that falls squarely into the "literature" category both for the eloquence of Disch's writing and the timelessness of his ruminations on life and war. This is a thoughtful novel that offers insights into human existence, and it will likely stay with readers long after they have turned the last page. Ursula K. LeGuin summed up the book best in her cover blurb, which says simply: "It is a work of art, and if you read it, you will be changed." --Craig E. Engler

About the Author

Thomas M. Disch is the author of such classic works of science fiction as "Camp Concentration, 334, The Brave Little Toaster, " and "On Wings of Song, " all of which are cited in David Pringle's "Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels." His criticism has appeared in the country's leading magazines and newspapers. His book "The Castle of Indolence" was a nominee for the National Book Critic Circle's Award in Criticism.


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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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