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The Terror: A Novelby Dan Simmons
Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of Ilium and Olympos transforms the true story of a legendary Arctic expedition into a thriller worthy of Stephen King or Patrick O'Brian.
Their captain's insane vision of a Northwest Passage has kept the crewmen of The Terror trapped in Arctic ice for two years without a thaw. But the real threat to their survival isn't the ever-shifting landscape of white, the provisions that have turned to poison before they open them, or the ship slowly buckling in the grip of the frozen ocean. The real threat is whatever is out in the frigid darkness, stalking their ship, snatching one seaman at a time or whole crews, leaving bodies mangled horribly or missing forever.
Captain Crozier takes over the expedition after the creature kills its original leader, Sir John Franklin. Drawing equally on his own strengths as a seaman and the mystical beliefs of the Eskimo woman he's rescued, Crozier sets a course on foot out of the Arctic and away from the insatiable beast. But every day the dwindling crew becomes more deranged and mutinous, until Crozier begins to fear there is no escape from an ever-more-inconceivable nightmare.
"Hugo-winner Simmons (Olympos) brings the horrific trials and tribulations of arctic exploration vividly to life in this beautifully written historical, which injects a note of supernatural horror into the 1840s Franklin expedition and its doomed search for the Northwest Passage. Sir John Franklin, the leader of the expedition and captain of the Erebus, is an aging fool. Francis Crozier, his second in command and captain of the Terror, is a competent sailor, but embittered after years of seeing lesser men with better connections given preferment over him. With their two ships quickly trapped in pack ice, their voyage is a disaster from start to finish. Some men perish from disease, others from the cold, still others from botulism traced to tinned food purchased from the lowest bidder. Madness, mutiny and cannibalism follow. And then there's the monstrous creature from the ice, the thing like a polar bear but many times larger, possessed of a dark and vicious intelligence. This complex tale should find many devoted readers and add significantly to Simmons's already considerable reputation." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Hugo-winner Simmons (Olympos) brings the horrific trials and tribulations of arctic exploration vividly to life in this beautifully written historical, which injects a note of supernatural horror into the 1840s Franklin expedition and its doomed search for the Northwest Passage. Sir John Franklin, the leader of the expedition and captain of the Erebus, is an aging fool. Francis Crozier, his second in command and captain of the Terror, is a competent sailor, but embittered after years of seeing lesser men with better connections given preferment over him. With their two ships quickly trapped in pack ice, their voyage is a disaster from start to finish. Some men perish from disease, others from the cold, still others from botulism traced to tinned food purchased from the lowest bidder. Madness, mutiny and cannibalism follow. And then there's the monstrous creature from the ice, the thing like a polar bear but many times larger, possessed of a dark and vicious intelligence. This complex tale should find many devoted readers and add significantly to Simmons's already considerable reputation." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The fate of Sir John Franklin's last expedition remains one of the great mysteries of Arctic exploration. What we know, more or less, is this: In the balmy days of May 1845, 129 officers and men aboard two ships — Erebus and Terror — departed from England for the Canadian Arctic in search of a Northwest Passage to the Pacific. They were never heard from again. Between 1847 and 1859, Franklin's wife... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) pushed for and funded various relief missions, even as the expectation of finding survivors was replaced by the slim hope for answers. It's a story perfectly suited for fiction, if only because we have so little else to go on. Dan Simmons' new novel, 'The Terror,' dives headlong into the frozen waters of the Franklin mystery, mixing historical adventure with gothic horror — a sort of Patrick O'Brian meets Edgar Allan Poe against the backdrop of a J.M.W. Turner icescape. Meticulously researched and brilliantly imagined, 'The Terror' won't satisfy historians or even Franklin buffs, but as a literary hybrid, the novel presents a dramatic and mythic argument for how and why Franklin and his men met their demise. The book opens well into the middle of things, at the onset of the ships' third winter beset in sea ice. Months after Franklin's own death, his second-in-command is now in charge. Gothic imagery pervades, as 'Captain Crozier comes up on deck to find his ship under attack by celestial ghosts.' This 'attack' turns out to be an artful description of the aurora borealis, though Simmons never tells us that directly. Indeed, the power of his metaphoric language comes from the archetypal superstitions of the crew, who, despite their anchor of Protestant Christianity, are a pagan lot deep down. But the crew's belief in witches and magic may or may not explain their main fear: a 'Thing on the ice' that stalks, beheads, eviscerates and otherwise kills off crewmen one by one. For 200 pages or so, we aren't sure if this beast is a figment of their overactive imaginations, maybe a giant polar bear or a yeti of Northern lore, a monster suggesting the 'beastie' of Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' — the terror within — or Beowulf's Grendel, not to say Grendel's mother — a preternatural, evil intelligence bent on destruction. Faced with mutinous threats, general starvation, intense cold and something wrong with their tinned food supply (scurvy and lead poisoning appear rampant), Crozier provides leadership without arrogance. As the novel's protagonist, he is a man of the people, a realist, unlucky in love. As an Irishman in the British Royal Navy, he has been largely ignored by the Admiralty despite his stoic competence. By contrast, Franklin represents most of what was wrong in early British Arctic exploration. His prior expeditions had met with minimal success, making him best known in England as 'the man who ate his shoes,' though given all the other things men ate to stay alive on Arctic expeditions, it's unclear why shoe leather would be singled out for ignominy. Goaded by his very public failings, Franklin retained his penchant for arrogant idealism and wasteful ritual. He brought along fine china and monogrammed silverware, among other 'necessities.' In the end, his primary mistake is cultural: Out of xenophobia he refuses to adopt local methods of travel, shelter and hunting. Yet to say that Sir John gets his just deserts is unfair if only because 128 others suffer the same fate. Crozier recognizes the captain's weaknesses, and therein lies the novel's poignant sense of loss. He dispenses shipboard justice out of practical necessity rather than lofty idealism. In their desperate hours, he preaches not from the Bible favored by Franklin but from the 'Book of Leviathan' — his own recitations from Thomas Hobbes, which, among other things, explains the birth of superstition and religion: 'There was nothing which a Poet could introduce as a person in his Poem, which (man) did not make into either a God or a (BEG ITALDivel.' As the novel descends toward its hellish climax, the 'Divel' chasing our crew — that 'Thing on the ice' — transcends its monstrous nature and becomes the manifestation of earthly retribution, wild payback for the hubris of Western civilization. The vehicle of that transcendence is Lady Silence, a mute Inuit girl who lives on the ship and goes at her own whim, providing a portal to Eskimo mythology and shamanism. Northern spiritual philosophy gives the world — and this novel — its ultimate balance, predicting the coming of kabloona ('pale people'), whose arrival brings 'drunkenness and despair,' melts the sea ice, kills off the white bear and calls forth the 'End of Times.' While Franklin's men are unable to escape the realities of starvation, brutal cold and the violent urge, Crozier's instinct for survival pushes the novel to its ethereal end. This mix of historical realism, gothic horror and ancient mythology is a difficult walk on fractured ice, and anyone without Simmons' mastery of narrative craft would have undoubtedly fallen through. Despite its Leviathan length, 'The Terror' proves a compelling read, while making the average meal consumed by the average American seem a precious gift from warm-weather gods. David Masiel, who spent 10 years working in the Alaskan Arctic, is the author of 'The Western Limit of the World' and '2182 Kilohertz.'" Reviewed by David Masiel, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"It's clear that Simmons devoted a lot of time to researching the history of the Franklin Expedition." Library Journal
"One of Simmons' best." Kirkus Reviews
"The prolific and versatile Simmons turns to historical fiction in this fine narrative of the lost Franklin expedition of the 1840s." Booklist
"Simmons' prose is as sharp and dazzling as the ice of which he writes." Denver Post
"Simmons is a master of horror, suspense, characterization and description. This true story gives him an opportunity to demonstrate these talents." Rocky Mountain News
"At over 750 pages, the book miraculously flies by, balancing dozens of engaging characters with riveting horror-movie set pieces....Brutal, relentless, yet oddly uplifting, The Terror is a masterfully chilling work." Entertainment Weekly
"Dan Simmons writes with the salty grace and precision of Patrick O'Brian. But in piling supernatural nightmare upon historical nightmare, layering mystery upon mystery, he has produced a turbocharged vision of popular doom." -Men's Journal
Greeted with excited critical praise, this extraordinary novel-inspired by the true story of two ice ships that disappeared in the Arctic Circle during an 1845 expedition-swells with the heart-stopping suspense and heroic adventure that have won Dan Simmons praise as "a writer who not only makes big promises but keeps them" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). THE TERROR chills readers to the core.
"Brutal, relentless, yet oddly uplifting, THE TERROR is a masterfully chilling work." -Entertainment Weekly
"In the hands of a lesser writer than Dan Simmons, THE TERROR might well have dissolved into a series of frigid days and three-dog nights. But Simmons is too good a writer to ignore the real gold in his story-its beleaguered cast." -Bookpage
"Guaranteed to have readers pulling their covers up to their noses, THE TERROR will make for a blood-freezing, bedtime read this winter-and any season thereafter." -Pages
The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in.When the expedition's leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape. The Terror swells with the heart-stopping suspense and heroic adventure that have won Dan Simmons praise as "a writer who not only makes big promises but keeps them" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). With a haunting and constantly surprising story based on actual historical events, The Terror is a novel that will chill you to your core.
About the Author
Dan Simmons is the award-winning author of Olympos, Ilium, and The Hyperion Cantos. He has received the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and British Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards, among many others. Born in Illinois, Dan published his first short story at the age of 34, and hasn't looked back since. His books have been translated into 27 languages. Dan lives in Colorado.
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