The Terror

The latest book of Dan Simmons, The Terror, has been keeping me awake at night. Normally I wouldn’t appreciate that, but this story is so compelling, it’s worth the price. As historical fiction, it’s hard to see how it’s ended up on sf/f lists, but no more so than The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, I suppose.

The Terror is about an ill-fated arctic expedition in the 1840’s, when two British Navy ships are frozen in over a few seasons, the crews stalked by a beast, perhaps mythical, perhaps real. The psyches and viewpoints of the several tellers of this story were riveting. I found myself caring so much–and so quickly–about these people that I felt a deep envy of the author’s ability and also such gratitude that he pulled it off. I always like a Dan Simmons book, but this, I must say is his best by far. It’s shelved in mainstream lit, and belongs there, despite the Beast.

A totally harsh story, but I love how Simmons manages to inspire us without resorting to the usual heroism. The book is worth it alone for the fascinating details of British Naval life–things we’ve seen before in Patrick O’Brian, maybe, but Simmons’ take is to show us how that discipline fares when confronted by the surreal, horrifying, and enobling conditions of two years locked in the ice.

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