on 27 January 2008
The premise of The Terror is the ill-fated Arctic expedition, led by Sir John Franklin, of the 1840s. I must admit I knew nothing about the expedition beyond the basics when I read this novel, and as such I got a little lost when the point of view switches characters, but some research soon cleared that up.
This novel is meant to be historical fiction instead of a factual account, and in that regard it excels. Most of the characters are based on members of the real Franklin expedition, including the protagonist(s). Not wanting to spoil the plot, I'll say that the (fictional) encounters with native Inuits and the mysterious beast stalking the men are seamlessly woven into an historical context.
The plot itself is a marvellous one; gripping and page-turning without resorting to cheap shock moments. The characters are well-established, and you feel a genuine pang of sadness if one dies. I read the whole 950-odd pages in under three days, not because it's a skim-read book (it isn't), but because I was so drawn in. The plot is exciting, with much of the "I have to know what happens next!" of good storytelling.
However, this is not a perfect book. There is no one major bad point, just a few little niggles that conspire to knock a star off the rating.
Firstly, and I understand this is a copy error not a writer error, the proofreading in the paperback copy was shoddy. There are more than a few cases of words running together - "theanimal" - and the typist often uses a quotation mark (") to mark plural possessive (childrens") instead of an apostrophe or other mark. Obviously this is a printer error and not Simmons' error, but it does detract from the story and stop you being drawn in when it happens.
Secondly, there is one exception to the "seamlessly blended history with fiction" as I detailed above. In the middle third of the book, two of the characters are discussing their previous voyage. In just one page they manage to mention Charles Darwin, the Beagle voyage, Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' and Charles Babbage and the computing engine. For myself, this jolted me out of the story somewhat. It felt like Simmons wanted to get even more historical context into the novel than there is already, and suddenly found his opportunity (a conversation between two learned men) to do it. A reference to one of the above three would have been fine, but a long list is a little much, and the fact that no other historical figures are mentioned anywhere else in the book adds to the feeling.
Finally, I have a small issue with one aspect of Crozier's character (a fictional representation of the real explorer Francis Crozier). Again in the middle third of the book, he uses an aspect of his personality to help him through illness (again, I don't want to spoil it). This personality thing comes out of nowhere and goes on for pages and pages. Apparently Crozier has had this ability all his life, yet he's been on an ice-locked ship for two years and we've never heard of it until now. Like the other minor niggles, this isn't a major complaint but it does detract from the story somewhat.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend this book - to any fans of historical fiction, disaster novels, horror novels or Arctic exploring in particular - but to every reader in general. It is an adult book; there are a few sex scenes and gruesome moments, so I wouldn't recommend it to children and younger teenagers. The novel is also quite in-depth and nearly a thousand pages long, so if you're a fan of skim-reading and quick books this isn't for you.
Before you read it, if you're not familiar with the Franklin expedition in history then you might like to do a bit of research, if only to more easily distinguish the characters. Also, I found that the chapter headings are very important, as they contain the date and the person from whose point of view the chapter is told, and as the book (for the first two-thirds at least) is told in a non-chronological fashion keeping track of the dates is key to understanding the plot.
So yes, I'd recommend this novel. I'd never read Dan Simmons before this book, but I'll definitely be seeking more of his work out now!
The Terror is based on the true story of the ill-fasted Franklin expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. Two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, set sail to find the passage and were never seen again by white men. Graves and artefacts were found by other later explorers but the story of the hundred plus men will never be fully known.
Simmons cleverly uses this true story as the base for this fantastically thrilling novel. The dark nature of the human psyche is the true monster in this tale, not the huge beast that is methodically slaughtering crew members. The decline of the human body and the human mind is brilliantly explored and proves to be more chilling than the brutal attacks of the white beast. The story is well researched and it's all too easy to imagine yourself there in the dark and the cold, wrapped in clothes that never fully dry out. The invasion of the white Europeans into the lands of the native Inuit is also introduced in this book through the use of Inuit mythology.
This is a large book and the pace is somewhat glacial, if you'll pardon the pun. However, it's well worth the read. Just wrap up warm as you read.
on 27 February 2007
To be honest, I never thought I would enjoy this novel as much as I did. The Terror was meant to be some sort of break from my preferred speculative fiction picks. The book being based on the true story of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, I was expecting a detailed historical thriller. The Terror is indeed that, and then some! I should have known that an author such as Dan Simmons would have integrated a few "fiction" elements to the mix.
What is beyond the shadow of a doubt the most brilliant facet of this novel is the fact that it reads like a firsthand account. The acknowledgements at the end of the book demonstrate the kind of extensive research which was required to produce such a detailed work. Still, it took a master storyteller to weave all those disparate elements into such an excellent whole. À la Patrick O'Brian, Dan Simmons literally plunges the reader into the day-to-day life aboard HMS Erebus and Terror. Sailors, it seems, at least based on a number of references, share a proclivity for farting. . . As one reads along, you can definitely feel all an expedition through Arctic ice encompasses. Moreover, Simmons captures the frigid landscape and the Siberian temperatures beautifully. The narrative conveys the bone-chilling cold and its repercussions on the two ships and their crews in a manner I've never encountered before.
The characterizations are "top notch," another aspect which makes The Terror a "must read." Much like George R. R. Martin, most of Simmons' chapters showcase a different POV character. Witnessing the crews' struggle for survival through the eyes of such contrasting characters makes for an even better reading experience.
My only complaint would have to be that the book is at times overlong. Of course, any tale that recounts such a voyage down to the smallest of details will not engender a crisp pace. For the most part, this was no problem. And yet, I feel that speeding things up in certain portions of the novel would have helped with the overall rhythm.
I found The Terror to be an intense and satisfying read. If this book doesn't make my Top 10 of 2007, it will have been an incredible year!
If anyone elected not to pick this one up because of The Time Traveler short story/essay, you are missing out on an exceptional novel.
To all you fans looking for quality stand-alone books, look no further. The Terror is what you need!
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on 26 December 2014
When the weather is cold, dark and bitter there is no better time of year than to start reading The Terror by Dan Simmons. The book is a lengthy historical horror novel following the events of the HMS Terror and its sister ship Erebus, two 19th Century exploration sailing ships trapped in the polar ice of the Arctic Circle and stalked by a mythical snow creature. When the crew have to abandon their ships the morale and order descends even further into chaos as murder and treachery take hold. By shifting perspective between various crew members a growing sense of horror is gradually revealed. Rich in detail The Terror is a book which demands patience on the part of the reader to really appreciate its strengths and terrifying depths. Despite the staggering length of the book I was surprised how easily I sailed through the story, relishing the chilling world that the author has created although the mystical themed ending was a bit disappointing. To conclude The Terror is an immense and involving novel that leaves a strong cold impression long after you’ve finished reading.
on 28 February 2016
This is a magnificent book. The full impact of the Franklin Expedition on the sailors is truly frightening. The era, the setting and the characters are all captivating in their own way. The research that must have gone into writing a book like this is staggering.
This is a riveting read for fans of historical adventures, of horror, of... Well it's reveting for fans of books, regardless of genre.
on 3 January 2016
I really enjoyed this book. Based on real life but with a bit of a supernatural twist to it. I must admit that at the end of the book I still did not fully comprehend the role of the 'Terror', and I found the fate awaiting Captain Crozier unbelievable. However I will read it again and perhaps all will be revealed. All in all a thoroughly good and enthralling read which will keep you engrossed throughout.
on 6 January 2015
I think this has become one of my favourit books. I can understand how some people have complained about the ending, the tension is deflated somewhat but it is a small complaint. There are 2 persistent elements that pervade the book, the relentless feeling of cold and an overwhelming feeling of dread. Simmons has an ability to push scenes, characters or set pieces to the extreme. I can't think of another writer that I've read who does this and it is always backed up by Mr Simmons meticulous research. Some reviewers have said the monster in the story or terror, is a sort of background element but I disagree. 2 set pieces in particular, one in which the monster attacks the crew when they are trying to have a carnival, in a set which is based on Poe's short story the Masque of the Red Death and another in which a crew member has to climb the rigging to escape the beast, explify Simmons great ability with set pieces and understanding of the horror genre. A modern genre classic.
I loved this book from start to finish. Based on the real voyages to find the North West passage it has historical authenticity but goes way beyond. Dan Simmons crates a claustrophobic and terrifying environment in which little is certain except the unrelenting nature of the cold and dark. He mixes the disturbing effect of isolation and starvation on people with a mysterious threat from outside which defies all normal precautions and considerations to create a frightening and unpredictable whole. In this intense situation characters have to make difficult and often harsh choices and are all the while stalked by the creature on the ice who seems to be able to take them at will. An excellent read. Recomended
on 2 December 2012
This book could have been fantastic. In fact for the first half of the book, in spite of the odd flaw, I found it very entertaining and a gripping read. I was recommending it to friends and family. The author has obviously done a great deal of interest of his subject and this is to be applauded. However the last couple of hundred pages turned into absolute drivel. Here are some of my problems with the book (Spolier alert):
1.) Croziers "Irishness". Yes Francis Crozier was born in Ireland but to a protestant family descended from English settlers from the 17th century. The concept of what people like Crozier meant if he referred to himself as Irish and what we now mean by the term are very different. Irish back then in the protestant sense was interchangeable with being English. I think Edmund Burke, an Irish protestant used to refer to himself as being both English and Irish. Similarly the Duke of Wellington, a British war hero and prime minister of the UK was born in Ireland to a well established protestant family, raised in Ireland and got married in Ireland. He regarded himself as being English however. Throughout the novel Simmons romanricized Crozier as being "Irish" in the modern sense of the word and has him looked down upon by the British establishment throughout his naval career for being "Irish". Something that would have been unlikely as a very large proportion of British military leaders have been Irish protestants; Field Marshals Montgomery, Auchinlek, French, Gort, Alexander, Roberts, Wolseley, Alanbrooke and Gough to name a few and then a number of Admirals; Beatty, Aylmer, Cunningham, Warren, Richards and de Roebeck. Even Irish Catholics could get to the top back then, for example Field Marshal James O'Hara, General Luke O'Connor VC etc He was hardly an outsider without chace of geting to the top. If he was then he would never have become a captain in the RN at a time when promotion was very slow as it was overburdened with officers! But Simmons cannot even resist trying to turn him into a Catholic with him secretly attending the Catholic church!
2.) My next point is that as a Captain Crozier is meant to be the hero but is a massive failure as a captain and I don't think that this was intended by Simmons. As one other reviewer has put, this author has done great research yet seems to know nothing about the Royal Navy itself. Crozier allows discipline to breakdown and allows his crew to get away with murder, literally in one case. The Royal Navy was ruthless when it came to discipline. No Captain would have allowed the insolence that certain crew members got away with and I found this aspect of the book very hard to take in. It is interesting that it is mentioned that Crozier went to Pitcairn island as a young man and met the last living mutineer of the bounty. In spite of what is now generally percieved about HMAV the Bounty, Lieutenant Bligh was actually too soft on the crew. He gave a rollocking when other captains flogged and flogged when other captains executed crew members. He used punishment far less than most other captains and this was why the mutiny took place. The Royal Navy was very hot on discipline if any oter captain had known that Hickey had declared that Iriving would be the first to be killed then he would have executed Hickey and all around him even before Iriving was killed. Dan Simmons should have down some more research in this sense.
3.) The editing of this book was sloppy. This is not the fault of Dan Simmons but the publisher. Dan Simmons was obviously eager to show as much detail as possible and include everything he has researched. For example Goodsirs description of John Torringtons burial goes into needless excess, describing how he was dressed etc so that he can include every detail he knows about it. Any good editor should have trimmed this down. Similarly there are the religious speeches that just drag on and the last few chapters just wafle on too. There is the odd Americanism that slips through, as one other reviewer has noted, Goodsir using a gopher in a comparison.
4.) I felt like Simmons sometimes regretted writing the "Terror" into the story as for a long time this beast disappeared and the book seemed to turn into a serious attempt to turn into a historical novel which this could well have been. I also think that towards the end Simmons didn't know how to end the story and up until that bit the otherwise serious and realistic (If flawed) story went off at a tangent, went rather daft and lost all of its credibility for me. It would have been nice if he had wrapped up properly what happened to des Vouex and the last 40 men.
5.) This story for me was a lost oppurtunity. The idea of the crew battling against this beast hunting them down one by one while battling the elements was a stroke of genius. Crozier was a tough old so and so. Crozier and 40 of his men were seen by natives in 1850 begging for food, Criozier was then seen in 1851 with others and finally in 1852 and possibly up to 1858 with one other crew member in the Baker Lake area 250 miles South of the adelaide peninsula. Yet we get the story wrapped up far too early in my opinion in 1848. I think it plausible and a nice idea that some of the crew abandoned trying to get further South and decided to live with the natives instead but I just felt that in this respect Dan Simmons just got bored, didn't know how to wrap it up and went off at a tangent. Some of the writing in this book is really excellent. The fight between Thomas Blanky and the terror wasone of the best action sequences in a novel I have ever read and I thought the characters were very well drawn out. Croziers heartbreak by Sophia seemed so very real. Like I say, I did actually really enjoy this book for most of it, it just badly let me down at the end. It could have been so much more.
Thankyou for reading this rather hefty review.
Sir John Franklin, known as `the man who ate his shoes' after his first failed expedition to the Arctic Circle to find the Northwest Passage, has been given one last chance, over twenty years later. Sir John leads an expedition of two vessels reinforced to withstand the crushing might of the ice - HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. While Sir John travels in the flagship Erebus, Captain Francis Crozier commands the Terror. But with no time at all after their arrival in the Arctic, three men are dead of consumption and the ships are trapped for the 1845-46 winter off Beechey Island. The next year they make little progress, finally reaching a standstill off King William Island, so close and yet so far, Sir John is sure, to the entry to the fabled and heartily desired North West Passage.
The Terror evokes with all the power and horror that Dan Simmons' remarkable imagination can bring forth the cold desolation of the lives of approximately 150 men who are trapped within the ice, not for one year but for closer to three. History tells us that fate will not be kind to these men and so the novel resounds with the hollowness of their future and the desperation of their plight. You'd have thought that having to survive within these freezer ships and then cast out on the ice would be enough to contend with but the Franklin expedition is plagued by something else, the `thing' that stalks them, trying to tunnel its way into their vessels, watching them from the ice, stealing men during the endless Arctic winter night, leaving their pieces to terrorise the minds of the rest of the crews.
The Arctic ice is a wide and open place, sea joining with ice into a great land mass, its horizon merging with the enormous sky, the seam hidden by fog, blizzards or whiteout. But The Terror reminds us of the opposite, its claustrophobia closes in, to cabins, sleeping bags, ships, boats and sledges, and every man has to deal with the psychological assault and physical discomfort of this winter imprisonment. Simmons presents the tale from numerous perspectives, notably, Franklin, Crozier, the surgeon Dr Goodsir (whose tale is told through extracts from his journal) as well as other officers and crew aboard the two ships. We are encouraged to align mostly with the officers but we do get to know several of the sailors aboard. The accounts come from different times, the past slowly joining with the present, present tenses becoming past. It's a clever construction, bringing together optimism with the loss of hope.
The dangers that the men face on the winter ice are matched by the demons within themselves. Whether this increasing madness is a symptom of scurvy or not, it is plain that as much danger comes from humans as it does from whatever lurks out there on the ice, watching them. The Inuit girl who shadows them, Lady Silence, her tongue gnawed out at its base, is a reminder of the magical power of an environment that these Victorian men cannot control. The Terror is a frightening book because it is steeped in atmosphere and the chill of the Arctic. The entrapment, the increasing hunger and scurvy, all play tricks on the minds of these scared men, terrified out of their wits by the irregular and unpredictable assaults by the thing from the ice.
The Terror takes its time. It is a very long novel at almost one thousand pages. The narrative moves between men, between ships and across the months. The details reminds me of Moby Dick. We learn here about every level of a Victorian ice breaking vessel, its stocks, its crew, its codes, as well as the competition in London between explorers and captains. There are chapters of intense excitement when the violence overspills but for much of the time there is a mood of ominous imminent potential danger. The thing is out there, stalking the Terror, and it is never less than horrifying not least because it can't always be seen.
But it's not difficult to see the allegory of this novel, in the same way that it was evident in Moby Dick. True story it might be but this is the tale of a group of men entirely out of place, inflicting their presence on an environment - and local people - that doesn't want it. The mentions of Darwin and his evolutionary theory remind us that the modern world is changing but that is irrelevant in the Arctic night. The tension and darkness increase, despite the brief glimpses of hope that glances at the unreliable horizon-skimming sun bring, the violence and horror press down harder on our shoulders. Madness threatens. Through it all we have the journey of Captain Crozier who perhaps more than anyone or anything, except the thing on the ice, forms the heart of this extraordinary novel.
Last year I read Dan Simmons' The Abominable, a richly evocative account of an early ascent of Everest, equally frightening with its depiction of human and inhuman violence. The Abominable was one of my top three reads of 2013. The Terror, written a few years earlier, is no less powerful and is just as emotional, perceptive and frightening a read. I recommend them both completely, every bit as much as Dan Simmons' superb Hyperion.