Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Terror - Dan Simmons

The Terror
Dan Simmons
Little, Brown and Company


In May of 1845, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror left England on an expedition to find the fabled Polar Sea and navigate the North-West Passage. When the voyage began, there were 129 sailors aboard the ships. By November of 1847, when the two ships were frozen in pack ice around King William Island in the north, only 59 men remained. Some died of scurvy, accident, or other illness. Others were taken, one by one, by something that lurks among the alien and ever- changing landscape of ice.

Captain Sir John Francis, leader of the expedition and captain of the Erebus was supremely confident in his ability to be the first to sail the unknown North-West Passage. So confident that he had no time to listen to the warnings given by other polar explorers, nor the warnings and explanations of dangers given by his Ice Masters. Sir John remained, until his death, positive that his force of will would overcome the forces of nature. His second-in-command, Captain Francis Crozier, a bitter but experienced seaman, had no such faith. Upon Sir John’s death, Crozier assumed command of what appeared to be a doomed and dying expedition.

The ships have been ice-locked for over a year. Sub-zero temperatures and poor food had the men exhausted even before the arrival of the creature. Sailors are a superstitious lot, and while some believe the creature is simply some kind of polar bear, others believe there must be a supernatural explanation. Bolstering this fear is the fact that the first killing coincided with the arrival of a mute Esquimaux woman that the men have named Lady Silence. In the dead of a dark, arctic winter, his men being picked off by some unknown creature, Crozier must make some harsh decisions if anyone is to survive.

The main facts of the story should be familiar, since the novel is based upon a real arctic expedition. The author has not only done his research, he’s fleshed out the characters and events and made them come alive. The horrible conditions, the freezing cold, the paralyzing fear, seem very real to the reader. So real, in fact, that I spent most of my reading time shivering or reaching for a blanket. The story is told in chapters narrated by Sir John, Crozier, and a ship’s surgeon’s mate and would-be naturalist on his first voyage. Each character has his own unique voice and viewpoint that, when put together, paint a vivid picture.

At something around 800 pages, the story still flies. Nothing seems extraneous or padded. Each page adds to the creeping unease, the sense of dread that eventually pervades the group of marooned sailors. This book rarely left my hands during the few days it took me to read it; and when it did, it was not far from my thoughts. It’s not often that I finish such an epic story and want nothing more than to turn back to the first page and begin again, watching events unfold. I cannot recommend this highly enough for readers with an interest in history, naval history, arctic expeditions, horror, thrillers, character studies, or unforgettable reads. Horror and scifi fans already know this author. THE TERROR should cement Hugo winner Dan Simmons’ reputation with readers everywhere.

Rating: 10
January 2007
ISBN# 0-316-01744-2 (hardcover)


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