CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas M. Disch
Disch is a sci-fi favorite of many and one that literary snobs have been known into include in the inner circle of genre decimating brilliance. If one were bored and meticulous, one might find touches of mystery, supernatural, sci fi, fantasy and sociological thriller in his works. He's also a prolific critic and book reviewer for periodicals such as The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, Washington Post Book World, Playboy, The Atlantic, The Nation, Hudson Review, and Poetry. In his spare time, he publishes an incessant stream of short fiction in genre and literary magazines. As "Tom" Disch he's produced over 500 poems that offer much in the way of wit and delightful formalism; not to mention the acclaim brought by his children's books like The Brave Little Toaster and A Child's Garden of Grammar. I found him to be a damn good read.
CAMP CONCENTRATION has the reader diving right into the life of Louis Sacchette, a poet imprisoned for draft resistance in a war an alternate history taking place in the early '70's, United States. America has declared war on everybody and is willing to won at any cost. Sacchette has been slipped a pen and paper by a sympathetic guard and begins a journal of his now three month experience in prison. He writes, "This is my journal. I can be candid here. Candidly, I am miserable."
His cellmates, a Mafia petit bourgeois and a constantly bickering male couple, are like Chinese water torture. His life, plucked from that of a mediocre published poet to dissident, is a slow and endless misery. Until he's taken to Camp Archimedes.
Here, Sacchette meets up with an old school mate and begins his slow decent into pathogenic hell. For Camp Archimedes is government run and its prisoners are guinea pigs for the latest government experiment. Prisoners are given a drug derived from syphilis spirochete. Their intelligence increases dramatically, and they find a new life in scientific experiment and philosophical discussion. But the drug has a nasty side effect. Death. Most prisoners live only 9 months after injection.
And it is Sacchetti's unfortunate position to be the observer of the suffering, exasperation and death of these men at the hands of a government that puts world domination over the worth of human life.
This book broke a reading dry spell unlike any I've suffered from before. Disch is fully in character with his first person journal narration. This P.O.V. is perfect. It puts the reader in Sacchetti's mind as all is slowly revealed yet distances the reader enough to intellectually observe the goings on as Sacchetti does. With all of it's intentional pretention a la Sacchetti, and with Disch's engaging and allegorical prose, in the end I experienced the book as a thriller. It wasn't until I turned the last page that all was revealed and a day later I am still processing it.