A Short Changed Story,
This review is from: The Abominable (Paperback)
It is difficult to write a review of this book without any plot spoilers but I shall try my best. Firstly I enjoy Dan Simmons work in the past, favourite books having been The Terror, Drood and Hyperion. A previous reviewer does mention that people are reviewing this purely from the perspective of The Terror and he does have a point. Other reviewers have criticised the amount of detail going into climbing. I was thrilled by the amount of detail and obvious research that Simmons had gone into with the climbing. One of his traits as an author is the research and detail which bring about a believable background and storyline. By focussing on real detail and tying in with historical fact the reader is drawn, almost hypnotised, into a process where the most fantastical becomes believable. In the Abominable the fantastical development of the plot is just taken a step too far and in my opinion descends into farce and the kind of stereotypes that we find in Enid Blyton, Frederick Forsythe and Dennis Wheatley but without the positive elements of these authors' stock villains.
The build up to the assault on Everest and character development are great scene setters and you have a real sense of the tension heading to breaking point. I found the main characters likeable and, as a rule, well set within their time. One of my bugbears is authors merely taking a stock character from the modern world with all our shallow sensibilities and placing them in the past which does not in my opinion work. Simmons has been great in the past for creating a genuine feel for the time he is writing about. I did get the impression however that Simmons had an eye to a film franchise and felt there was some compromisation of the story because of this. Early on we have Indiana Jones style Nazis (the villain stereotypes I mentioned before) and a feisty, beautiful female lead who is almost a stock cinema caricature. At the time I felt this could be over looked as the story seemed to be developing along a believable way.
Simmons also seemed to be knowingly playing on elements of the horror/fantasy genre hinting at almost Lovecraftian storylines and drawing the readers along like a cat playing with mice. This is a great plot device when used correctly but not when the alternative actually ends up even more unbelievable and readers are left feeling short changed. It is good to build up tension in one way but not if you are to take it away as you draw towards the climax. You end up carrying on reading just on the hope that you have misread something or that Simmons is going to bring the story back on track as a clever plot twist but to no avail.
There are a number of bits were I ended up just putting the book down in incredulity- one of the characters is revealed as a deeply devote Buddhist late in the book with the statement didn't you see him sitting cross legged and made even more absurd by the quatification of the statement that he was sitting chanting "Om Mani Padma Hum" while doing so. Also there is also a major piece of equipment which is utilised toward the end of the novel which just turns up, the author stating it had been carried by sherpas all along. Now such detail may be forgiven in other authors but not when the whole of the novel is based on consummate detail and indepth information, it just appears like the author has lazily thrown this in later on when he suddenly realises that it was needed.
The climbing detail and tension with the hazards of the mountain are great initially but when other elements are introduced the perils of the mountain are largely forgotten about and massive movements across this dangerous terrain skipped over when previously we were subjected to pages of prose. One minute our heroes are in danger of losing their life through exposure the next they are able to trip many miles of ground within just a paragraph. This just seems inconsistent and again does not fit well with the earlier attention to detail.
That said I am grateful for Simmons in reigniting an interest in exploration books and climbing as I have now gone on to order factual books about Scott's Antarctic expedition and conquests of Everest as this one really does not pull it off and the reader really is short changed.
I was torn between rating 2 or 3 stars but have opted for 3 due to the excellent attention to detail and background early on in the novel- it is just a shame that the last 200 pages or so go downhill.