Thursday, January 25, 2007


Now that it's out, I thought it would be a good time to repost my comments on Dan Simmons' The Terror, from late last year. I have to say that the thing that sticks with me the most, as noted below, is how strange the book is, in an entirely great way. It's, at heart, a truly insane novel and there are scenes in it that rank among the best I've ever read. I keep reiterating this because it's being marketed as a mainstream thriller. And that it is, but it's one of the weirdest in memory, and as much as it's a page-turner, it's also, in some ways, deeply antithetical to the idea of "commercial" fiction.


If anyone has wondered why I haven't emailed them or been that responsive the last few days, it's because I've been reading the advance galleys of Dan Simmons' new novel, The Terror (Jan. 2007). Telling the story of a possibly doomed arctic expedition in the 1800s, this is possibly one of the most harrowing, beautifully (and carefully) written, strangest, and just plain brilliant novels I've read in a very long time. It's one of those books that qualifies as a page-turner and a serious read that you want to savor. Unfortunately, the page-turner impulse won out over savor over the last hundred pages and I wound up finishing it last night in a fever-haze of exhaustion and sleepiness, not unlike (but nowhere close to the severity of) the condition of the trapped crews whose various fates are detailed in the novel.

Here's the description from Amazon:

The bestselling author of Ilium and Olympos transforms the true story of a legendary Arctic expedition into a thriller worthy of Stephen King or Patrick O'Brian. Their captain's insane vision of a Northwest Passage has kept the crewmen of The Terror trapped in Arctic ice for two years without a thaw. But the real threat to their survival isn't the ever-shifting landscape of white, the provisions that have turned to poison before they open them, or the ship slowly buckling in the grip of the frozen ocean. The real threat is whatever is out in the frigid darkness, stalking their ship, snatching one seaman at a time or whole crews, leaving bodies mangled horribly or missing forever. Captain Crozier takes over the expedition after the creature kills its original leader, Sir John Franklin. Every day the dwindling crew becomes more deranged and mutinous, until Crozier begins to fear there is no escape from an ever-more-inconceivable nightmare.

I have to admit to not reading Simmons after The Hollow Man, which I thought was lazy in its level of detail. But The Terror is one of those books that thrives on specific detail without it getting in the way of the plot, and makes me want to go back to some of his recent novels and re-try him.

There's much that's heart-rending, horrifying, and just plain uplifting in a grim way as Simmons' details his characters' struggle to survive. But there are also scenes of strange fever dreams, of possible second sight, of bizarre Masques held on the ice...well, let's just say that I could see this becoming a bestseller, but there's a darkness and an utter strangeness at the core of the book that distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill and makes it top-notch. I'm still trying to absorb the book, but I'm afraid right now it's absorbed me.