Thursday, May 01, 2008

Terror in the Arctic

Due to having being lax on the blogging front last month I'll begin with a post I meant to write a while back, but obviously didn't. It's a brief review of the last book I read called The Terror by Dan Simmons. In my opinion The Terror is a return to form for Dan Simmons after his last couple of books, Illium and Olympos, which tried to cover too much and ended up being rather convoluted and disappointing. The Terror is based on the the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the north-west passage (a sea route through the Arctic between the Atlantic and Pacific) - the expedition consisting of two ships: The Erebus and The Terror. The fate of the ships' crews, and the ships themselves, was never discovered, making the story rife for fictionalisation. The book is presented as a horror book, with one of the main premises being of something in the Arctic night picking off the crew (you get this from the blurb of the book, so it's no spoiler), but don't let this fool you as the book a mainly a brilliantly researched and realised account of 19th Century Arctic expeditions, survival and maritime history. Simmons has done a great job in getting across the atrocious conditions that the expedition would have gone through. His characterisation of the large cast of people is also done excellently, obviously with some literary license, but also with a great deal of historical research. It's very easy to feel empathy with the characters and develop an attachment to them early on, meaning you care about their fate despite knowing that the expedition doesn't end well. The book is undeniably very, very bleak and this potentially could get too oppressive throughout a nearly 1000 page book, but it's so engrossing and interesting that you want to keep going. The end of the book does diverge substantially from the rest and I wasn't satisfied with it (except for the very end), but was obviously done to give the monster a meaningful background and again was very well researched. I would really recommend this book, but far more as a historical fictionalisation than for it's horror aspects.