Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch makes for two dystopian science fiction novels in a row. I seem to be reading quite a bit of this stuff lately. I’m not really writing a review of this one–I didn’t really like it and I only review books I like. So please don’t consider what follows a review.
Written in 1968, Camp Concentration is full of Big Brother type anti-government paranoia. The narrator/hero is serving a five year prison sentence as a conscientious objector for refusing to join the U.S. army. The U.S. is fighting a war against an unnamed opponent but that’s just a narrative device to get the narrator in prison–this book is not about the war.
Shortly into his sentence, the narrator is taken to a secret laboratory where he is forced to participate in a government experiment to develop a drug that will make people smarter. The drug works but at a price–while those who take it become geniuses, they also slowly die from the side effects. This may sound very familiar to fans of Daniel Keyes book Flowers for Alegernon which was a much better in my view. I’ve not read it since high school, but all of my friends were very moved by it. In Flowers for Algernon an uneducated, mentally disabled janitor is given a drug that over time makes him a genius. It’s written as a first person narrative so the writing itself mirrors this process. The effects of the drug eventually begin to wear off, which we can see in the writing as the narrator returns to his natural state. All of the cool kids at Foothill High School, class of 1982, loved it.
Camp Concentration is an entertaining read, for the most part. It becomes a bit bogged down towards the end when the narrator starts debating politics with the other characters. (I found myself mercilessly skimming–another reason why this is not a review.) Dystopian science fiction is supposed to reveal truths about contemporary society, but it’s not supposed to preach it. Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, which I reviewed yesterday, got a little preachy towards the end too, but the overall novel was a much better read that Camp Concentration. If you happen to be looking for this sort of novel, I’d go with Mr. Harrison’s book or with Mr. Keyes’s.
Dakota, however, found the book delicious, so I won’t be listing my copy on Paperbackswap.com.
When I first ran this review on my old blog Ready When You Are. C.B., back in 2009, Dakota was eating my books on a regular basis. She stopped after a few years for reasons only she knows. Dakota has not been well of late. Last August she was diagnosed with lymphoma and given eight weeks to live. She has certainly made it much further than eight weeks, but we are at the end of her time today. I’ll probably do some sort of memorial post this afternoon since she has been a part of my book blogging since the beginning. Her picture is all over my blog and she has long been the face of he TBR Dare. But it seemed fitting his morning to run a more-or-less random old post about one of the many books she ate over the years today. We’ll miss her.