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.