Monday, May 21, 2007

The Terror - Dan Simmons

If you've written a complex, period-accurate adventure set in the arctic, you'd probably have a read for 'hardcore' fans only. Add to that the fact that the book is over seven hundred pages long, spans years in the telling, and follows a half dozen major characters, and you've got an intractable manuscript fit only for the diehards, right? Wrong! I'd read Simmons before, but would hardly call myself a completist. In some cases the sheer volume of his work was enough to make my eyes dart elsewhere on the bookshelf. I am now ready to admit what a mistake avoiding this fantastic author was. If he went on for another seven hundred pages I'd devour those too.

Set among the crews of two ships trying to force a northwest passage through arctic ice, The Terror drags you in with tantalizing whispers of what could go wrong. It's not enough having to navigate through tons of ice in experimental ships loaded with sailors of all stripes. It's not enough that the expedition's leader is jovially unaware at least and criminally incompetent at worst. It's not enough that all of the great arctic explorers back home called it lunacy to make the attempt. No, those warning signs should have been enough, but a combination of greed, ego and desperation have conspired to throw these considerations aside. There is however, one consideration no one thought to explore. This is where the whispers of what could go wrong turn to screams. This place is uncharted for a reason owing less to nature and more to evil. There was no accounting for the possibility that at the top of the world existed a force alien to 'civilization', malevolent in intent, and more than a match for anything human minds and hands could bring to bear against it.

If the only people to pick up this book are the author's sizable (but not nearly big enough) contingent of fans, that would be the real terror. This book is essential to any reader who loves action, adventure, iconic characters pulled from the mythic tradition and the feeling on the back of their neck as the hair raises.


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