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Little, Brown & Company, December 2007
Reviewer: Dennis Higgs
Posted: February 5, 2008
* * * * * *
The lives of early Arctic Explorers must have been a mix of extreme boredom and outright panic. This must have been especially true of those in search of the elusive Northwest Passage when they would spend long winters trapped in the pack ice, hoping to survive until summer thaw while knowing their ships could be broken apart by the shifting ice. Upon starting THE TERROR by Dan Simmons the reader will expect a tale similar to previous works detailing life aboard ship in the frozen north. The author instead has even more planned.
Sir John Franklin has taken his crew up into the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage and certain glory for himself and Mother England. Like many explorers of the day, or at least their literary counterparts, Sir John is filled with the arrogance of knowing that he can find the passage so long as he persists against long odds. This arrogance causes Sir John to continue pushing north long after reason, and some of his junior officers, dictate that they turn back before the ice sets for the winter. Upon freezing hard for the long winter, the crew has little to do but wait on board and hoping the planks hold against the crushing ice. If that were the only dangers involved this would have made a compelling work for those with an interest in early exploration and adventure.
As the men go through their days on board they quickly realize something else is out there. Traversing the frozen lands between the two frozen sister ships Erebus and Terror, sea men first start seeing a strange apparition in the mist and soon realize they are under attack by something far more horrible than they can imagine. Men are attacked singly and in groups, on ship and on land, with bullets appearing ineffective against the monster. Throw in a native Inuit girl brought on board first as a gesture of mercy and then allowed to stay and the mystery intensifies. It eventually becomes apparent that this is not just an adventure story but one of suspense and horror manifesting on many levels.
Ultimately I enjoyed “The Terror” but felt it was really two separate novels. When the author was describing life on ship and the perils involved in early exploration I found it as good a tale as any I have read. He ably combines the human dimension behind each character with an adrenaline spiking description at life on the edge. I was less compelled by the terror aspects however. I found the entire presence of the beast stalking the crew unnecessary and a bit too metaphysical for my tastes. Those readers more inclined to partake of horror tales would probably be just as put off by the aspects I found entertaining. At 760 pages the current novel could have been split in half, one on Arctic adventure and one on horror. In trying to serve two genres perhaps the author has lost his focus a bit, although for both genres he does tell a compelling tale.
About Dennis Higgs
is a Professor of Biology at the University of Windsor, where he specializes in fish sensory biology. Higgs Lab homepage
. His spends his free time converting his farmland back to its natural wetlands habitat, and is taken care of by his two dogs, Doc and Bob, and his wife, Kirsten (sister of OnceWritten editor, Monica).
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The Terror, Dan Simmons
Little, Brown & Company, December 2007
Review © Dennis Higgs, 2008
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