Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - Terror of the Terror

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The crews of the British exploratory vessels The Erebus and The Terror knew that things were bad; trapped in the ice while searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, The Erebus was damaged so badly it would probably never sail again, the hunting and fishing was proving impossible in the arctic conditions, the coal reserves for heating the ships was running low, and the bulk of the canned provision were proving to be filled with spoiled and rotten food. But nobody on board could imagine that these would prove to be the least of their problems. Following a fatal encounter with a couple of Eskimos, the crew-members are assailed by a mysterious creature whose size, speed, strength, and intelligence all smack of the supernatural. As the creature toys with the crews, killing at will, the sailors find their already slim chances of surviving cut down to virtually zero.

The Terror is what could be dubbed "historical horror"; the Franklin Expedition was real, the characters in the novel (such as main protagonist Captain Crozier) were based on the real crews of The Erebus and The Terror, and a lot of the details in the novel were inspired by what little was discovered of the remains of the expedition. However, the presence of the preternatural creature stalking the crews sprung solely from the mind of Simmons who, despite the inclusion of this "Is it a polar bear or something more?" creature, spends more time focusing on the interactions of the crew and their struggle with the more common natural obstacles of survival in the Arctic than on the battle with the creature itself. Still, the presence of this unfathomable menace provides additional tension to the proceedings.

I have to say, I liked this a heck of a lot. Not what I would call a page turner; Simmons' prose is a bit too dense for that distinction. However, it was a solidly written book with engaging characters and a pervading sense of menace which helped propel it. Highly recommended.