Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review by JD: The Terror by Dan Simmons

I would like to introduce my partner and husband JD to you. He reads quite a few books that I other wise would not read or be interested in. Just for a bit of variety for you and fun for him he will be adding his thoughts about the books he reads here at Layers of Thought. Just some more books to potentially add to your “never ending to be read list”.

Here is his review of The Terror:

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The Terror, by Dan Simmons

ISBN: 978-0-316-01744-2

Pages 766; hardbound

Little, Brown and Company, 2007

The Terror is a work of fiction that is based on a real life story. And it is quite a story. The year is 1845 and two English naval ships depart on an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Canadian Arctic. Of course, no-one is even sure if such a passage exists, and even if it does it will inevitably be iced over for the great majority of the year. For “iced over” the meaning is - ice that is many feet thick, constantly moving, and able to easily crush normal ships by the pressure it exerts. It is expected that the expedition will take 2-3 years, possibly longer, and that for much of that time the ships will be locked into the frozen seas during the horrendous winters when there is no daylight and temperatures often reach 80 degrees or more below freezing.

What happened to the expedition in real life or in the novel? Do they make it back safely or do they come to a terrible end? I won’t spoil it so you’ll either need to do some Googling on Sir John Franklin’s polar expedition on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, or of course read the novel.

Simmons takes the basic facts of the expedition, adds a huge dollop of fantasy and fiction, and weaves a pretty neat story. It makes for some unrelenting reading – basically over 700 pages worth of “just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse, they do”. It’s a story of incredible hardship and human endurance, and while it is a work of fiction much of the detail is based on what really did happen on polar expeditions during the nineteenth century. The main dollop of fantasy that is added is the appearance of a huge and powerful unseen predator, which plagues the expedition and periodically makes their thoroughly miserable lives yet more miserable.

For me, I was immediately drawn to a book about a crazy expedition, the unknown, human hardships, the arctic, and a basis on real-life events. As if that wasn’t enough, inside the book cover was a neat map showing the course of the expedition through the Canadian Arctic; and I’m a total sucker for maps. I’m not entirely sure that bringing the monster into the story was a plus. For some this will enhance the read, but for others it may get in the way – after all it is a tremendous plot line without the appearance of a fantastic predator. I liked the notion that the basic story was believable and could have been true, so I kind of tripped over the monster aspects a bit. And the ending? Well, all I can say is that it headed off in a direction I didn’t see coming.

In summary a very well researched and written book, and one that is easy to read. It’s a long book, perhaps a little too long, but once I’d started it I pushed on through to the end and enjoyed it. I’d give it three and a half stars. Now, is there a similar book out there but without a monster?

Amazon purchasing information for US, UK, and Canada respectively:

The Terror: A Novel The Terror The Terror: A Novel



I just finished.. DARKNESS AT THE STOKE OF NOON: DENNIS RICHARD MURPHY a mystery that used that same expedition and weaves fact and fiction.
I like coincidences.
The premise of The Terror interests but I am not in the mood for monsters. I like other of his works so will add this to my list for later.

John D said...

Thanks for the comment - I'll definitely seek out the "Darkness....." book.

Steve Oldner said...

Hi John,

I read it last year. What a story! For me, the monster/god was a plus. Canned goods getting poisoned, the lightning and storms, and the tongue thing. Amazing what they went thru.

John D said...

Hi Steve,
No daylight, no food, 80 degrees below freezing and being hunted down. Reading the book was certainly more comfortable than being part of the story! Your mention of "the tongue thing" will make people curious. :-)

logankstewart said...

I'm actually listening to the audio book of The Terror right now. The reader is British, which is a plus for the characters, but the story seems to be lacking something for me. I'm about a third of the way through it, and I'm not really sure whether or not I'm going to be able to endure to the end. Whether or not I make it through it, I'll be blogging my reaction on the book by the end of next week (hopefully).

Nice review, by the way.

Steve Oldner said...


My wife listened to it and thought it was too detailed. I read it and there is a lot of detail. Just keep plugging away! It is one of the few books I still can remember.

I'll be looking for your reponse.

Put a new meaning in 'cat got your tongue?'. LOL!!

John D said...

Hi Logan,
Kind of ironic - it is a bit of an endurance test getting through a loooong book which is basically about man's ability to endure. If you're a third of the way through and it's not doing it for you, that's telling you something. If you don't make it, I can give you a quick summary of how it ends. Cheers,

John D said...

Hi Steve,

It's definitely a book for people who like the details, which in this case I did. Though curiously I also think it could have done with some editing and could have lost 100+ pages, so I think I'm a little conflicted about this book on a few fronts.

I've got to agree with you that it's one that will stick in my memory.

I wonder if the "tongue teasers" will attract any new readers?


Steve Oldner said...

Hi John,

I mention to J. Kaye about this topic and she reminded me I said it was too long. So, 100+ pages could be editied out with no loss in detail or story.

The ending was a tongue twister!

(said tongue-in-cheek)

John D said...

Hi Steve,
I'm not sure how to respond to that - so I guess I must be tongue-tied!!!

Steve Oldner said...

John - ROTFL!!
I was going to say more, but I forgot. It was on the tip of my tongue.

Enough for me, got to work!

Thanks for the laugh.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just got The Terror at a booksale for $1.00 ! LOL

John D said...

Darn it Diane - we had to spend $3 on ours! We must be shopping in the wrong places.

I hope you enjoy the read. I'll be curious to hear what you make of it.

logankstewart said...

Indeed with the details. I'll give it a little more time and effort before I decide to quit.

John D said...

Good luck Logan!

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