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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reader's Diary #482- Dan Simmons: The Terror

I recently won The Terror and was pretty excited to read it. It was the stories of northwest passage explorers that attracted me to the north in the first place. Dan Simmons' historical horror novel based on Franklin's final and unsuccessful attempt to find the elusive passage sounded wonderful.

Then it arrived in the mail. At 955 pages my enthusiasm waned.

It started off good, with an introduction to many of the intriguing, if somewhat familiar, characters. I'd read Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail: The Quest For The Northwest Passage and The North Pole some years ago and I recognized many of the names and personalities.

Berton's book, it turns out, was one of Simmons' major sources, and it got me thinking. If you've ever read The Arctic Grail you'll remember how novel-like Berton tells the story. A group of very different men with one shared goal, traveling to parts unknown and perishing in a frozen wasteland-- why, there's fear and plot enough right there. Was adding a supernatural element necessary?

Who cares, as long as it's entertaining, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't. While trying to incorporate Inuit mythology into the story could have been commendable, Simmons efforts are lacklustre. The dreaded tuunbaq is regrettably described in such shoddy detail, it comes across as an abnormally large polar bear. It's scary, yes, but not a great deal scarier than a normal sized polar bear, than starvation, than lead poisoning, than freezing to death, than any of the real dangers they faced.

My biggest issue, however, was the clumsy manner in which historical facts were thrown in. The absolute worst case of this came after it was revealed that Crozier, the captain of the Terror (which accompanied Franklin's Erebus), has a supernatural power of his own: second sight. In one of his visions he sees Lady Franklin harnessing all her resources and power to send out rescue parties from England. Of course, in real life Crozier never learned of those actions, but in Simmons' story he is even able to name specific men she actually recruited. I'd suspended my belief for the monster already, I wasn't able to again. It seemed as if Simmons had found Lady Franklin's story interesting and wanted to work it in at any cost.

I'll admit though, had this book been a mere 425 pages, I'd probably have been little nicer in this review. As it is, I resent the time I wasted. If you're interested in Northwest Passage explorers, do yourself a favour and read Berton's book.

12 comments:

Bybee said...

Oh no....this is on my TBR...!

Kailana said...

I am glad I am not the only one that didn't love this book... I actually started it and still haven't finished it...

Nicola said...

Oh, no! After reading Drood this year I am sooo wanting to read this. I haven't read too many reviews against this one so I'll just have to hope I'm going to be one of the ones who like it. But with Kailana on your side too, it's not looking good ...

Remi said...

Well, at least it's big enough to be used as a door stop.

Teddy Rose said...

Oh no, I also won a copy of this book. I`ll probably give it a try.

John Mutford said...

Bybee: I won't be adding any Simmons books to my TBR any time soon.

Kailana: Yeah, I've read a lot of good reviews about it, too. Stephen King listed it as one of his favourite books 2 years ago. Then, he also recommended William Gay's Twilight and I didn't like that either.

Nicola: I take it that you liked Drood?

Remi: Or I can scoop out the pages and hide a flask in there.

Teddy: They've been giving away Simmons books like candy on all the blogs, haven't they?

Nicola said...

John, I loved Drood! I can't believe how fast I read it and it was a doorstop too. I really enjoyed the added supernatural element to what was otherwise a story about Dickens and Wilkie Collins. So I'm still going to give The Terror a try.

Heather said...

oh dear, I added this to my list just this week. I was listing to an Interview with Mr. Simmons on sirius radio and it sounded like a good follow-up to "Wanting" and "Darkness at the Stroke of Noon". I do have a copy of the Berton book so will read that one first and if and when I come across 'the Terror" I suppose I'll read it as well.

Wanda said...

I was actually looking forward to reading The Terror later this summer (there is no way I could tackle that many pages of teeny tiny type set without first seeing about a pair of glasses!). I won the book and an abridged audio version of the same — perhaps I should borrow the audio book back?

John Mutford said...

Nicola: Confession time. I've only read A Christmas Carol, so I'd like to read a bit more Dickens before (and if) I make it to Drood.

Heather: Not that I've read much by Berton, but of what I have, The Arctic Grail is my favourite by far.

Wanda: Trapped in the Arctic? Could be a neat way to spend the summer. Go for the Berton book instead though.

Graham said...

One man's opinion is not enough to condemn a genius work of fantasy that Simmons has created with this book. This book is by far one of the best books I have ever read, up there with Ender's Game. I throughly enjoyed this book and I am on the third time reading it. The book is at all points equally interesting, with only a few slow parts. Read this book. 5/5

Graham said...

O yeah, and he doesn't just KNOW shes's sending rescue parties, its nearly a premonition, a vague idea that in his heart he knows that help is coming. Crozier is under an immense amount of stress and where a man is almost at the point of no return while he makes these assumptions. Sometimes, reading books to enjoy them is so hard, but instead of being mister big shot blogger, just try to enjoy it, and you just might.