Camp Concentration

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Camp Concentration
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorThomas M. Disch
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreScience fiction
PublisherRupert Hart-Davis
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)

Camp Concentration is a 1968 science fiction novel by American author Thomas M. Disch.[1] After being serialized in New Worlds in 1967, it was published by Hart-Davis in the UK in 1968 and by Doubleday in the US in 1969. Translations have been published in Dutch, French,[2] German, Spanish, Italian,[3] and Serbian.[4]

The book is set during a war, projected from the Vietnam War, in which the United States is apparently criminally involved (it is noted at one point that the US is waging germ warfare in "the so-called neutral countries"). The President of the United States during this fictional war is Robert McNamara.

Plot summary[edit]

Poet, lapsed Catholic and conscientious objector Louis Sacchetti is sent to a secret military installation called Camp Archimedes, where military prisoners are injected with a form of syphilis intended to make them geniuses (hence the punning reference to "concentration" in the novel's title). By breaking down rigid categories in the mind (according to a definition of genius put forward by Arthur Koestler), the disease makes the thought process both faster and more flexible; it also causes physical breakdown and, within nine months, death.

The book is told in the form of Sacchetti's diary, and includes literary references to the story of Faust (at one point the prisoners stage Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and Sacchetti's friendship with ringleader Mordecai Washington parallels Faust's with Mephistopheles). It only becomes clear that Sacchetti himself has syphilis as his diary entries refer to his increasingly poor health, and become progressively more florid, until almost descending into insanity.

After a test run on the prisoners, a megalomaniac nuclear physicist has himself injected with the disease, joins Camp Archimedes with his team of student helpers, and sets about trying to end the human race.

The prisoners in the book appear to be fascinated by alchemy, which they used as an elaborate cover for their escape plans. Sacchetti, who is obese, has a number of ironic visions involving other obese historical and intellectual figures, such as Thomas Aquinas.

Allusions and sources[edit]

The book is seen as an example of New Wave modernism.[5] In addition to the staging of Marlowe's play, the book references Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus, which is about a composer named Adrian Leverkühn who intentionally contracts syphilis. Disch's book mentions a female composer named Adrienne Leverkuhn.[6]


  1. ^ Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 144. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
  2. ^ "Marcel BATTIN - Bibliographie Livres - Biographie - nooSFere". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  3. ^ "Title: Camp Concentration". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  4. ^ "COBISS/OPAC". Retrieved 2016-09-07.
  5. ^ Steble, Janez. (2014). Novi val v znanstveni fantastiki ali eksplozija žanra New wave in science fiction or the explosion of the genre : doktorska disertacija. [J. Steble]. OCLC 898669235.
  6. ^ Delany, Samuel (2009) [1977]. "Faust and Archimedes". The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. Wesleyan. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-8195-6883-0. Retrieved 2010-10-21.

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