Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I just finished The Terror by Dan Simmons. This book started off as a bit of a challenge. It was in the "Hot Picks" section of the library so I only had a week before it had to be returned and it is a 700+ page hardcover. Even the librarian at the checkout wished me good luck.

It turned out to be not too difficult to get it finished - I even did it 3 days early. The book turned out to be quite good and when I get engrossed in a book I am very skilled at finding extra time for reading.

The Terror is about the crew of the real life Franklin Expedition, trapped by the ice in the Arctic for multiple years while trying to find the fabled Northwest Passage. The title refers to the name of one of the ships in the expedition. Simmons also throws in a pure fiction twist - in addition to having to deal with spoiled food stores, scurvy, dwindling fuel supplies and temperatures below -40F/-40C on a ship frozen in the middle of an ice field, the crew is being stalked by a mysterious beast.

In some ways, this is a standard horror setup - take a group of people, put them in a situation they can't get out of, and add a sinister force that is killing them one by one. In this case, the book is saved by Simmons compelling writing and the interesting underlying situation although I wouldn't recommend this book for the faint-hearted. Simmons descriptions of the effect of long periods of cold, lack of food and isolation grinding down the men make the middle/latter sections of the book quite depressing.

I'm sure I was taught about the Franklin expedition in school -- it took place in what would become Canadian waters and was investigated in the '80s by scientists from my home town -- but I had forgotten all details. One thought that came to me while reading it was that average, everyday life during the early 1800s must have been quite unpleasant if men were willing to volunteer for trips to the Artic where they risked having to live for years in these kinds of conditions. In fact, some of the men were veterans of multiple Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and had been trapped by ice before! They knew what to expect and they still signed on.

Amazon Link : The Terror

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