The first book blogger discussion week has come to an end. (For more information on the origins of this, you can read about it at OF Blog of the Fallen.) It was a great idea and I’m looking forward to the next one covering Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling in December. Although I didn’t think it was a particularly enjoyable book, Camp Concentration was a great selection since it offered more to talk about than a lot of the more entertaining books that are out there.
It was fun to read everybody’s reviews and I think getting a few different perspectives on the novel was helpful in appreciating it more. I found it helpful to actually spend the week reading different reviews and comments instead of writing my review and then just moving on to the next book. Reading the reviews and comments and writing my own comments also made me think of a few things I wish I had further clarified in my review so I’m going to write about them now.
My main issue with Camp Concentration was that I didn’t feel like I knew enough about the characters to really care about what happened to them or be sad about some pretty harsh circumstances. However, this novel was still fairly character-driven, especially taking into consideration the fact that this was not common for science fiction novels written around the same time. It was told entirely through the eyes of one character and detailed his life at Camp Archimedes and his transformation throughout the story. It still did not entirely work for me (although his characterization was certainly better than some of the older science fiction authors such as Asimov), but I think it is important to remember that it is a fairly old book as far as science fiction is concerned. This is why I’d be interested in finding out more about how Disch’s work was influential and which authors would claim him as an inspiration.
I also stated in my review that I did not feel the book was particularly original or challenging, and I think this could have used some further clarification. It did not seem particularly original to me because there have been plenty of books about corrupt governments treating their citizen’s lives as a means to an end, enhancing intelligence in some way, experimenting on humans, life as a prisoner, etc. Also, the exploration of the relationships between intelligence and knowledge and intelligence and madness were nothing new to me, either. Upon further reflection, combining these elements with literary references and the way it was put together was probably more original than I gave it credit for being. The pieces were somewhat standard but the whole was not unoriginal.
By saying the book was not “challenging” I did not mean it was not profound or thoughtful. It did contain much to think about – it’s just that the parts that stood out to me were ideas that I’d already read about before. Therefore, it did not challenge my worldview – I never stopped and thought about how I’d never thought about something that way before or changed the way I viewed an idea. For instance, I already thought that IQ tests are not a great measure of intelligence and that genius is often a matter of luck before reading about it in this novel. There was never one of those “Aha” moments for me – which doesn’t mean someone else will not have one when reading it (or that I might not have some were I to reread it).
I rambled a bit more than I meant to… I do think it was one of those books that was far more fun to discuss than it was to actually read, so it is a great book for reading groups.