<<back to News
And I did. It had taken over my life. I thought
about it whenever I wasn’t reading it. Its length (nearly
800 pages) and my generally slow reading pace made sure it would
take me a while, but two weeks for such a long book is pretty
good for me. And whenever I was in the same room with it and
not otherwise occupied, I had to read it.
“It,” of course, is Dan Simmons’
marvelous new novel, The Terror. (Text note: since
“Terror” in the title refers to a ship, I know that
technically it’s supposed to be italicized as The
Terror. But I’m too lazy to be a stickler today.)
Most of us have probably run across a little Dan Simmons sometime
in our careers. He writes fine novels across a variety of genres
(fantasy, sci-fi, horror, hardboiled mysteries), and I’ve
long been a fan of his horror novels. I thought Summer
of Night, for instance, was much better than its thematic
relative, Stephen King’s obnoxiously overstuffed It.
So when my Hachette rep Marty Conroy sold
me a new novel by Simmons which was about the men of a lost
Arctic expedition from the late 1840s stuck in the ice and stalked
by a monstrous predator, I was more than a little interested.
The marketing blurbs trumpeted, “Patrick O’Brian
meets Stephen King!” Okay, I’m not so much the O’Brian
fan, but large horrifying creatures eating people has been a
favorite book and movie theme of mine for many, many years.
I anxiously awaited the galley.
When it came, my initial excitement was quickly smothered by
dread, 760 pages? This sucker is going to take me weeks! But
Marty had told me a picky colleague of his had read and loved
it, so I decided to put it next on the pile.
Well, it did take weeks. Two weeks, to be
exact. And they were two weeks very well spent. As I said, the
novel is riveting. I never once, in all its 760 pages, thought,
“Okay, this is slowing up, move it ahead!” It does
not let up for a minute. The situation at the start of the novel
is that the Franklin expedition (which actually did get lost
in the Arctic in 1847), consisting of two ships (Erebus
and Terror), has, in seeking the Northwest Passage,
gotten stuck during the winter far north of the Arctic Circle.
They have already spent one winter in their position, and in
1847, there isn’t enough of a summer to get the ships
free. (The Erebus is already smashed beyond repair, though the
crew use it for shelter.) As they face down the winter of 1847,
which of course is dark 24/7 and very very cold, their captain
Sir John Franklin is dead and supplies are dwindling. They may
or may not be able to make it to the summer, and if the summer’s
too cold, they’ll still be stuck. They’re thousands
of miles from any chance of rescue. And did I mention the fact
that men keep disappearing from the ships and coming back in
pieces, if at all?
Yes, friends, the situation is bad enough,
but the ships’ crews have company on the ice. Very bad
company indeed. As if putrefying rations, treachery, near mutiny,
a mysterious tongueless Esquimaux woman, dire cold, and the
constant threat of scurvy aren’t enough.
And, oh, man, does Simmons do right by his
material. His writing has never been better. The action scenes
never drag the way they often do in long novels. The characters
are real, flawed, living, breathing creations, especially the
incompetent Sir John Franklin, the heroic Captain Francis Crozier,
the equally heroic Doctor Goodsir. I feel that I have lived
this novel with its characters, and I’ve taken about all
the freezing weather and constant fear of mutiny I can. Seal
blubber even sounds appetizing to me now. But you can bet I’ll
be drinking my orange juice to ward off scurvy. You don’t
want to die of that, believe me.
If this sounds like something you’d like, do NOT miss
the Rep Around Galley Breakfast, on Sunday starting at 7.30
am. Marty Conroy tells me he will have a limited number of galleys
there. No, it doesn’t come out until after Christmas,
but people have to spend their gift cards on something, don’t