Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, September 28, 2012

2007: The Terror (Simmons, Dan)

Emotionally tolling; sagacious humanity (5/5)
From September 21, 2010

Outside of my preferred genre of science fiction, I occasionally delve into the odder fares of fiction (China Mieville, Hakuri Murakami, Iain Banks, and some classics). After reading Simmons' Hyperion saga, I was entrenched in his style, prose and humanity. Nevertheless, he doesn't disappoint in these regards. Even after 955 pages, I was still entranced.

Rear cover synopsis:
"The men aboard the HMS Terror--part of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition--are entering a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, stranded in a nightmarish landscape of ice and desolation. Endlessly cold, the struggle to survive with poisonous rations and a dwindling coal supply. But their real enemy is even more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror clawing to get in."


Simmons' introduces a hearty number of characters with very human qualities; no one is gifted with any extraordinary skills but all are based in reality. There are those flaws (Crozier's social naivety and his fondness of the grog), those with charity (Goodsir's fair journal keeping and patient bedside manner), those with wickedness (Hickey's cynical hierarchy attitude and evasiveness) and those with innocence (Lady Silent's salubrious behavior and mysterious background). Multiply this cast by three and you have yourself one of the most diverse and human casts even laid upon the pages of a novel.

Placing this cast in the realm of a godforsaken landscape like the northern arctic produces an emotionally tolling plot which brings the reader's heart close to that of the collective soul of the ship. It was emotionally difficult to read the harrowing tale of men trapped on ice facing a likely future of starvation and hypothermia. With the foreknowledge of fate the Franklin Expedition, I honestly had a hard time trying to relate to the sailor's positive attitude while stranded on-board the ships even after two years. Their fate must have more sealed then they realized as the arctic winters are rarely as forgiving as the arctic summers. Once the men begin the arduous trek (sometimes only one mile per day) to the river mouth, it's obvious that the men are marching to their tragic death from botulism, murder, scurvy and hypothermia. Even though Crozier (here his naivety becomes clear) has a vision of reaching Great Slave Lake, the odds are staked very much against him.

The mystery revolving around the silent Inuit girl (Lady Silent) and the monster stalking the sailors (Tuunbaq) is fairly obvious and in the end not so mysterious. The ending itself attempts to provide a folklore path for the existence but ultimately feels like a whole new story, disassociate from the bulk of the novel. The uniqueness of the fulfilling and interesting conclusion is the inclusion of the old sea captains naivety.

While reading, I felt the novel deserved a strong four stars as I was able to read about 100+ pages per day and fell enveloped in the plot. But when I finished and started to review the novel, only then did I realize just how human Simmons made the part-fictitious cast and their three-year arctic saga. When I told others of the book I was reading, I found it hard to verbalize just how difficult it is to convey the plight the men dealt with and how the outcome is ultimately already written. This sheer difficulty in emotional conveyance is unique and merits Simmons's The Terror worthy of the full five stars.

1 comment:

  1. This one has been hovering at the top of my to-read list for too long---mom's a huge Dan Simmons fan and loaned me her copy. I need to get around to reading it, since everything I've heard about it has been stellar.