I always hesitate to say a book is overlong. I read because I like knowing the deepest thoughts and motivations of the characters who populate my fiction. Books are meant to be longer, more in-depth experiences. There are thousands of studies that have been done on chapter and novel length, but the truth of the matter is: a reader only notices page count when the writing and/or story sucks.
I find myself questioning whether or not I think a book is going on too long, I ask: Was I ever bored for extended periods of time? You can have a long book with lulls, but the action should kick back in right around the time your average reader will start skimming. (In a perfect world, a reader will never feel like skimming, but we all know that even the best novels can have unneeded information) This, in the realm of fiction, is called pacing. It is my opinion (mind you this opinion is based solely on this book, as I have not read anything else by Dan Simmons, but Carrion Comfort is the novel that put him on the map, so I'm judging it as a good example of his work) that Dan Simmons is crap at pacing, and he is absolutely in love with his own voice.
For a novel of 884 pages (and teensy-tiny type to boot, at least in my paperback copy), I found only three memorable scenes. The opening, the final fight with the "Honky Monster", (who we will discuss more in a minute) and the final fight with Justin. Everything else was either meh or downright boring. I feel comfortable saying this book is way too long based on the content received. I could have done without 50% of this book. And no, that's no exaggeration.
A great bit of my enjoyment factor was hindered by the repetition of the word "Negress". Listen, I understand that Negroe used to be an acceptable word. Likewise, I get that Black was once a racial slur. I get it. I'm not talking about that. I simply do not like the sound of the word "Negress". I feel about this word the same way some people feel about "cunt" or "twat". The word just sounds ugly, and I don't want to listen to it. Doesn't matter what it means or if it was ever acceptable. If the word was a person, it would have a punchable face. Unfortunately, I switched to the audiobook at around the halfway mark so I literally had to listen to this woman say the word dozens of times. And no, that is no exaggeration either. Yes, this book is dated, but even if I went back in time to when this book was released in 1989, I still can't imagine the necessity for such word repetition. Seems like lazy writing to me. I mean, at one point, the word is used as much as "she" and "her".
Another huge letdown was the lack of horror. The cover promised "EPIC HORROR" and other checks the book's ass couldn't cash. There were horror tropes, sure, but there was very little that was horrifying. Carrion Comfort is the same kind of horror experience you'd receive if you watched a marathon of the Underworld films. This is action-horror, and I don't like action-horror. Yeah, there are monsters, but they aren't scary. They are rapey and over-the-top, but they aren't frightening. The one truly terrifying monster in the book is figuratively castrated by the fact that the author thought it would be a sound idea to call him the "Honky Monster". Sweet baby Tom Cruise, I wish to fuck I was kidding. This scythe-wielding baddie is turned into a joke shortly after his introduction, and he never reclaims his rightful spot as scary. Every time he was named, I laughed. Out loud. I literally barked laughter. Such a well-designed monster should not garner guffaws based on his moniker alone. I don't know what I would have called him, but it sure as shit wouldn't have been "Honky Monster". This is the equivalent of naming Dracula the "Neck Sucker!" Get the fuck outta here!
Oh, and I'm not a chess player. I feel that I missed a great deal of subtext because I do not play the game. And that sucks. This book did, however, make me pick up a book about chess, and I'm enjoying learning how to play, but I know I have many miles to go and I wasn't about to put off finishing this book while I boned up on my middle game.
A final note on the writing. Dan Simmons doesn't write like a modern author. His prose is elegant and Dickensian. I was not expecting that. While it shouldn't have been so jarring, it most certainly was. I can dig good writing no matter the style, but I don't think it fit this subject matter. It was horribly awkward in places. Imagine Shakespeare writing The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men. That would be weird, right? Now imagine Charles Dickens wrote a horror-thriller in the vein of early Dean Koontz. I think you see my issue.
In summation: I'm not giving up on Simmons. I want to see what he does with some historical fiction. I have Drood and The Terror queued up in the next few months. Both novels are equally long , so if I don't like them I'll probably quit Simmons after that. I love the concept of Drood and probably should have started there.
Final Judgment: Needs Jazzercize! and Slim Fast.