tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
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The Terror by Dan Simmons

It was a thrilling, almost erotic feeling - an illicit discovery of self separated from everyone and everything else in the cold and the dark - and he feels it again now, as he has more than a few times during his years of arctic service at opposite poles of the earth.

Quite simply, wow. As you probably gathered from the fact that I keep raving about it on here and on Facebook, I just adored this book. Reluctantly finishing it felt a bit like coming out of a relationship: the sort of relationship that you knew was always going to end tragically but was intense and amazing while it lasted. The Terror is an historical horror novel which tells the tale of the doomed Franklin expedition of the 1840s to find the fabled North-West Shipping Passage through the Arctic (a desperately desired, but ultimately non-existent alternative to the perils of passing Cape Horn). The hundred and twenty-odd men set off in two ships, Franklin's flagsip Erebus and the Terror captained by Francis Crozier, Simmons' protagonist. These reconditioned military vessels are in many ways ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the expedition, especially when they become frozen in the ice for many isolating and desperate years in a row. Many question marks still hang over the fate of the historical expedition - the abandoned ships have never been precisely located, and though mummies and remains (including some cannibalised bones) have been found, and no survivors were discovered the exact fate of many of the men is still not known.

Simmons' novel seems meticulously researched (I have been reading up on the subject myself since I finished it) and really brings to life many of the very different characters on the voyage: from the cooks, cabin boys, ice-masters and marines to the pretentious, aristocratic Franklin, or the likeably practical alcoholic Crozier. But he also brings an element of horror above and beyond the already pretty extreme horror of the cold, darkness, starvation and encroaching madness experienced by the trapped crews. The men are being stalked by another 'Terror' a huge, and terrifyingly intelligent creature on the ice is tormenting and brutally killing them one by one. The monster could so easily have been a gimmick, or outstayed its welcome (my frequent gripe with horror as a genre is that the scariness is too often stretched out so long it loses impact). But The Terror avoids both of these pitfalls: in this scenario, the drawn out nature of the suffering is the primary source of horror: the men must gradually face the prospect of their dwindling supplies, and the onset of scurvy. And Simmons finally reaches into Inuit mythology (albeit, from what I can tell, a rather fictionalised mish-mash of different tribal mythologies) to give the creature much more depth and power than your run-of-the-mill terror in a strange land.

I guess doomed polar expeditions don't make for the most uplifting reading but there are plenty of moments of tenderness and humour mixed in with the frequent gore and despair and the ending - from one perspective at least - contains more promise than you might expect. I really can't recommend this book highly enough. I will definitely be seeking out more Simmons to try but I do think that - though this was brilliantly written and plotted - it was the subject matter above all that truly captivated me. So, more Simmons recommendations will be received gratefully. Any more recommendations of novels of doomed polar exploration will be received rapturously.

Date: 2010-07-21 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clytemenstra.livejournal.com
I think I may check this one out. It sounds like my kind of book!

Date: 2010-07-21 12:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tispity.livejournal.com
It is just captivating. And if do decide to buy it you'll certainly get your money's worth time-wise: it's a huge tome. It took me a week to get through it and that included devoting nearly all my spare time to it and pulling a couple of almost all-nighters!

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tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
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September 2010

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