Carrion Comfort - By Dan Simmons


by Dan Simmons

Reader, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but blood-drinking, form-shifting, bat-flying, kill-with-a-stake-in-the-heart, walking-undead vampires aren’t real. They’re purely fictional constructs. You’ll have to trust me on this. I’ve stalked Vlad Tsepes to his birthplace (in Sighisoara) and grave site on Snagov Island (it was empty) and tumbledown castle (the real one that the Romanians won’t talk about, not the tourist trap one at Castle Bran) in Romania and Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains and, I regret to be the one to inform you, Dracula and his blood-slurping ilk are make-believe.

But mind vampires are real.

Few if any of us get through life without being preyed upon by more than one mind vampire. Even children are not exempt from falling victim to these foul fiends.

Mind vampires feed on violence, but the ultimate violence for them is the imposition of their will over yours. I long ago discovered that such an exercise of will and control of one person over another is a form of violence, and one we can all gain an unholy taste for if we’re allowed to.

As adults, we suffer such mind-vampire attacks in almost all of our jobs— some petty, power-mad manager making our work harder and daily life miserable, some administrator or supervisor who revels in exercising arbitrary power over us and then lapping up the violence of that power as if it were warm blood— and we also encounter mind vampires in our daily lives, on the highways, in public places, in politics, and, sadly, in too many of our personal relationships.

No one carries scars on their necks from actual blood-drinking vampires, but all of us have psychic mind-vampire scars that heal slowly, if at all. And once invited into our lives, a mind vampire can return whenever he or she or it wants. And they do. Always.

Odds are great that you’ve met one of the rarest and most dangerous of the mind vampires that live among us, a seemingly normal human being with the Ability, and, if you have, odds are almost 100 percent that this mind vampire has used that unholy Ability to bend your will and to drink from your soul.

I hadn’t planned to write an introduction for this Twentieth Anniversary Edition of my 1989 novel Carrion Comfort and, as things have worked out, I have a single day in which to write this. But I welcome the opportunity. With that brief amount of time, this introduction may contain something that most writers, including me, try to avoid in introductions— brutal honesty.

I almost never write about the writing side of my novels or stories in any introductions I do (and I tend to avoid introductions in the first place), and even on those rare occasions when I’ve commented on the creative side of writing, I’ve always avoided the business-anecdote side of any novel’s history. But in this case, my epic tale of mind vampires living among us and the oddly (or absurdly) epic tale of the writing, sale, editorial struggle, and publishing nightmare of the original versions of Carrion Comfort overlap and interact in a way that might almost be described as meta phorical.

There’s an ugly spiderweb in this true telling that is both fact and meta phor, and being enmeshed like a fly in a deadly spider’s web is very much the experience too many of us have felt when encountering those real mind vampires of which I speak. Carrion Comfort started as my second attempt at a novel and it ended as an epic, personality-defining, life-and career-determining struggle with real mind vampires.

So with little art and less polishing, but with a rather unusual level of authorial honesty, I’m going to tell you the true tale of the creation of Carrion Comfort and the mind-vampirish spiderweb of nightmare that this book led me into over a period of several wonderful and intensely painful years.

Carrion Comfort is the only published piece I’ve done based on a dream image.

Now, it’s rumored that some writers base their fiction on dreams, although I haven’t met many of those writers. (I tend to hang around professionals, who tend not to depend upon dreams, drugs, or inspirations.) Many readers and nonliterary sorts just assume that we writers are constantly finding inspiration in our dreams, but save for the occasional vivid image, dreams are an unreliable energy source for plotting and tale-telling and I for one have never depended on them.

But with Carrion Comfort, the seed crystal came from a dream. In truth, it