Camp Concentration

by Thomas M. Disch
Reviewed date: 2011 Mar 2
Rating: 1
164 pages
cover art

Louis Sacchetti is an insufferable self-righteous poet serving a prison term as a conscientious objector to the war. The book is told through his journal, so this thoroughly unlikeable character is our only window into the horrific experiments carried out by the government.

Sacchetti is taken to Camp Archimedes, a secret underground prison where he and dozens of other prisoners are deliberately infected with a mutated strain of syphillis called Pallidine. The disease is 100% fatal within nine months, but a side effect of the disease is phenomenally increased intelligence. If this sounds suspiciously similar to Flowers for Algernon, you're right, except that Flowers for Algernon has the endearing Charlie Gordon as its main character, while Camp Concentration's Sacchetti remains an unlikeable self-absorbed ass throughout the book. The experiment is still a monstrous crime, but we can never quite root for someone as unlikeable as Sacchetti.

Besides an unlikeable narrator, Camp Concentration suffers from a complete lack of action. The plot: Sacchetti is taken to Camp Archimedes, is infected with Palladine, and spends a hundred pages whinging in his journal. Then, as he's about to die, he suddenly thinks that maybe he should try to escape--at which point the other prisoners reveal to him that they'd been thinking about escaping all along. Nobody has any good plans, though, so they don't manage to escape. Then in a twist, in the last few pages of the book, Sacchetti discovers that the prisoners who had died had, in fact, not died--they'd cheated death by using a mind-transfer device to take over the bodies of the guards. So they escape. It's just bizarre.

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