The Terror

Sep 17 2007 Published by under Horror

Well, I'm back home for a couple more hours, then I head off to another meeting in California for a few more days. In the meantime, I thought I'd quickly comment on one of the best horror novels I've read this year: Dan Simmons' The Terror.

I read the book some months ago already, but Dan came back into my mind after I read, during my Amsterdam trip, two classic Simmons science-fiction novels, at the recommendation of two friends: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. If you haven't read those, do so; Hyperion has one of the best allegories of the relationship of man to God that I've ever read, and I was moved practically to tears on reading it. The Fall of Hyperion is not nearly as good as Hyperion, but is almost a necessary read from the open ending of the first book.

But I digress. The Terror is Dan Simmons' newest novel, and it is based on a historical account: the H.M.S. Terror was one of two ships which attempted to complete the Northwest Passage in 1845, and both ships vanished in the ice. Later rescue expeditions found remnants of the ships, and determined that both had gotten locked in the ice for several years, forcing an overland expedition from which no one survived.

For my money, Arctic expeditions of the 1800s are perhaps the best fodder for horror fiction. The Arctic is a desolate, deadly region of constant darkness and voracious cold. Expeditions are subject to hunger, mutiny, loss of limbs due to frostbite, eventual cannibalism and, above all, despair. The region is completely unforgiving: one small mistake, seemingly inconsequential at the time, could result in the loss of everything (think To Build a Fire).

Simmons fills in the unknown elements of the story of the Terror, and the novel starts in the middle of the tale. The Terror is locked in the ice, the other ship (the Erebus) is lost, and something is slowly stalking and killing the crew. Something which might be a polar bear, but is much larger than a polar bear, and seems impervious to firearms.

Beyond these introductory details, I will say no more about the plot of the novel. One thing I like very much about the story, however, is that it is told simultaneously from the point of view of a number of characters. Not until late in the novel do we find out who the 'hero' or central character of the story is; this is a wonderful strategy reminiscent of the movie Alien.

Anyway, The Terror is well worth a read. Be prepared, though, to be bombarded by unforgivingly bleak images. Oh, and I don't advise reading it during a long, cold winter.

8 responses so far

  • Personal Demon says:

    I'm about halfway through The Terror, and "bleak" doesn't really do it justice. Reading a novel about a group of people who you know don't survive (or at least are never heard from again), is extremely depressing. I was planning to finish the book before winter (I'm a slow reader), but now I'm even more rushed, since I don't want to be reading it during the coming zombie/blob/triffid infestation. Have you got your hunting gear yet?

  • skullsinthestars says:

    PD: "...since I don’t want to be reading it during the coming zombie/blob/triffid infestation."

    That's a really odd story. I had to look at it a couple of times to convince myself it wasn't a joke. My money is on some sort of super-growing plant that grows all over everything .

    "Have you got your hunting gear yet?"

    So what is camouflage when hunting zombies? A tee-shirt with a picture of G.W. Bush on it?

  • Personal Demon says:

    BBC news has more information on the Peru crater, including video.

    It really is a B-movie come to life, complete with scientific experts who don't belive the local witnesses. From the video:

    [female announcer's voice over footage of muddy crater with water at its base]
    "...Some meteorites can give off a 'bad egg' type smell from hydrogen-sulfide gas, but experts are dubious. A natural explosion of underground gases could have caused the crater."

    [Dr. Caroline Smith of the Natural History Museum]
    "It may be an impact, but I have to say my colleagues and myself are very skeptical at this point, but we'll reserve judgement until we actually see some evidence of something at the bottom of that hole or meteoritic debris around that hole, because if it's a meteorite, there will be bits left of it."

    THIS JUST IN:

    In addition to meteoritic bits, Dr. Smith will also accept as evidence of extraterrestrial origin either the emergence of heat-ray wielding Martians or the spread of non-organic spores that seek human hosts.

  • skullsinthestars says:

    PD wrote: "Dr. Smith will also accept as evidence of extraterrestrial origin either the emergence of heat-ray wielding Martians or the spread of non-organic spores that seek human hosts."

    I think it would much nicer if it turned out to be a pretty blonde girl who fell from the sky. You're so cynical, PD!

  • The Girlfriend says:

    Ahem...Pretty Blond Girl? You're going to have something else fall from the sky on you SkullStar.

  • Personal Demon says:

    SkullStar wrote: "I think it would much nicer if it turned out to be a pretty blonde girl who fell from the sky. You’re so cynical, PD!"

    Hmm... perhaps I am cynical. However neither the film nor the novel of Stardust describes the star as emitting a foul odor or causing disease. That being said, if they dredge a pretty blonde girl from the crater, then I will totally buy you a Coke. However if it's some extra-terrestrial menace, then you have to give me the last Dr. Pepper on earth as we're holed up in our stronghold. If the crater turns out to be neither, then we're both off the hook, but if it turns out to be a pretty blonde extraterrestrial menace, things get complicated.

  • skullsinthestars says:

    PD wrote: "but if it turns out to be a pretty blonde extraterrestrial menace, things get complicated."

    You laugh, but it IS a serious possibility...

  • Personal Demon says:

    Two months later, and I have finally finished The Terror. (I did say that I am a slow reader.) I liked the shifting perspective of the novel, and Dan Simmons uses it to great affect to build suspense. Characters die when they are the principle character in the scene. They die when they are peripheral characters. Most brilliantly, a couple of major characters die between chapters, so there is no way in hell that you can see it coming. I must say, though, that I had no trouble identifying the "hero", although I certainly didn't expect the direction the story took in the final few chapters.