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The terror : a novel
2007
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Author Notes
Science fiction writer Dan Simmons was born in East Peoria, Illinois in 1948. He graduated from Wabash College in 1970 and received an M. A. from Washington University the following year.

Simmons was an elementary school teacher and worked in the education field for a decade, including working to develop a gifted education program.

His first successful short story was won a contest and was published in 1982. His first novel, Song of Kali, won a World Fantasy Award, and Simmons has also won a Theodore Sturgeon Award for short fiction, four Bram Stoker Awards, and eight Locus Awards. He is also the author of the Hyperion series, and Simmons and his work have been compared to Herbert's Dune and Asimov's Foundation series.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Fiction/Biography Profile
Characters
Sir John Franklin (Male), Leader of a polar expedition; has a vision of a Northwest Passage; his ships have been trapped in ice for two years
Francis Crozier (Male), Captain, Co-commander of a polar expedition
Harry Goodsir (Male), Surgeon
Genre
Fiction
Thriller
Horror
Adventure
Topics
Arctic expeditions
Journeys
Sea adventures
Sea monsters
Survival
Death and dying
Fear
Shipwrecks
Setting
- Arctic
Time Period
1847 -- 19th century
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews
New York Times Review
WRITING fiction isn't an activity for the faint-hearted, and anyone who has managed, as Dan Simmons has, to generate two dozen books (in an impressive variety of genres) in just 22 years clearly deserves credit for discipline, diligence, resolve and, most of all, confidence. His will to persevere - to see every story, short or dauntingly long, through to the bitter end - has been regularly fortified by the recognition of his peers: his résumé includes a Hugo award (from the World Science Fiction Society), four Bram Stoker awards (from the Horror Writers Association) and a couple of World Fantasy awards. His latest opus, however, raises the disturbing possibility that this energetic writer's hard-earned self-assurance may be tipping over into something more like hubris. "The Terror" is a 769-page novel about men stuck in the ice. Maybe that's a tad reductive. This book needs all the reducing it can get, but in the interest of fairness I should say that "The Terror" could also be described as a large, ambitious historical novel about one of the most famous disasters of the 19th century: the doomed polar expedition led by Sir John Franklin, which set out from England in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage - the long-dreamed-of Arctic shipping lane connecting the earth's two great oceans - and never returned. Franklin's expedition was neither the first nor the last attempt to navigate the stubbornly uncooperative northern waters, but it was the most spectacularly and tragically unsuccessful: two state-of-the-art Royal Navy ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were lost, and all aboard them died, in what bleak, freezing misery we can only dimly imagine. Although Simmons, as a professional purveyor of horror and fantasy, is no dim imaginer, he has his work cut out for him. What actually happened to the officers and crew of the Erebus and the Terror is simply, awfully, that the ships reached a point at which they could not move in the polar ice, despite the powerful steam engines and retractable screw propellers that everyone believed would enable them to bust through - to prevail over adversity by means of technology, determination and brute force, as the British Navy was accustomed to do. Recent research suggests that Franklin's men were also debilitated by disease: there's good evidence that their food, improperly canned by an unscrupulous independent contractor, was riddled with toxins. The history of the Franklin expedition is, at its core, a tale of stasis and slow death in a stark, nearly featureless landscape. Which doesn't mean it's unfit material for literature or, at least, reasonably creepy entertainment. An immobilized ship can be a potent metaphor for certain states of existential unease, as it is in Conrad's novella "The Shadow-Line" (114 pages in the Everyman's Library edition) or Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (625 lines). And the polar regions, frigid as death itself, have always provided an exceptionally hospitable environment for horror: Mary Shelley ("Frankenstein"), Edgar Allan Poe ("The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket"), H. P. Lovecraft ("At the Mountains of Madness") and John W. Campbell ("Who Goes There?") have all dreamed dire happenings at one pole or the other, at much more modest length. ("The Terror" is dedicated, with "many thanks for the indelible Arctic memories," to 12 members of the cast and crew of the classic 1951 movie based on Campbell's story: "The Thing From Another World.") But of the many possible approaches to making artistic sense of the Franklin fiasco, just about the least promising, I'd say, would be to turn it into an epic-length ripping yarn. That's the course Simmons sets out on, though, and stays on, for hundreds and hundreds of pages and hundreds of thousands of words, in the apparent conviction that everything impeding him will ultimately, inevitably yield to his craftsmanship and his steely will. He dutifully dramatizes the sad facts of the disaster, enlarging a bit on the contrast between Franklin (distinguished, morally upright, incompetent) and the Terror's captain, Francis Crozier (Irish, hard-drinking, able). To the known history - which, as Scott Cookman's 2000 nonfiction account, "Ice Blink," demonstrates, can be narrated fully and vividly in fewer than 250 pages - he adds his own inventions and speculations: a mutiny; a mysterious, tongueless Inuit woman; and a scary monster in the form of a gigantic polar-bear-like creature with a glacier-size chip on its shoulder. Simmons works like a malamute to create a mythic aura for this implacable, murderous beast: the epigraph comes from "Moby-Dick"; Crozier makes frequent reference to "Leviathan" in his addresses to the crew; and in the final chapters the novel lays on a late, desperate surge of Inuit folklore in an attempt to magnify the significance of the long, grim voyage that the men of the Erebus and the Terror (and the readers of this book) have so agonizingly endured. But by the time the huge white thing has been rebranded as the embodiment of an ancient evil, most readers, I'd guess, will be well past caring. When a novel goes north of, say, 600 pages, we naturally become impatient, demanding, potentially mutinous, and the questions we ask of the writer can turn testy: Where are we going and why, and will the whole grueling experience be worth it? Or are we just stuck in something we can't seem to get out of? THAT persistence alone isn't enough to transform a bad idea into a good one is probably the chief lesson of the Franklin expedition in particular and the quest for the Northwest Passage in general. The passage, in fact, resisted discovery until 1906; the construction of the Panama Canal soon rendered it unnecessary. The attempt to produce a massive historical novel - one that might achieve the commercial glory of, for example, "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" or "The Crimson Petal and the White" - isn't, of course, a folly on that level. The quest for the Big Book is neither as heroic an endeavor nor, fortunately, as lethal. ("The Terror" won't kill you unless it falls on your head.) But when a writer as canny as Dan Simmons can talk himself into something as foolhardy as "The Terror," you know there's a kind of insanity loose in the world of publishing, and all I really want to say in my one little page is, Stop the madness. Simmons adds a few inventions to the Franklin disaster notably a scary polar-bear-like monster. Terrence Rafferty is a frequent contributor to the Book Review.
Library Journal Review
Though Simmons is best known for his convoluted sf novels Hyperion, Ilium, and Olympos, his new work shows that he's also capable of writing a direct and compelling narrative. For the most part, it's a straightforward sea story following the difficulties of the dwindling remains of Sir John Franklin's failed 1840s mission to find the Northwest Passage. However, in addition to scurvy, frostbite, botulism, snow-blindness, and threats of mutiny, the crews of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus are harried by some enormous Thing out on the ice. The story is told from the viewpoints of several members of the ships' crews, with emphasis on Terror captain Francis Crozier and Erebus surgeon Harry Goodsir. The effects of malnutrition and climate on the men are related in grisly detail, while the predations of the Thing are often left vague. As several characters remark, the real monsters in this tale are their own shipmates and the North itself. It's clear that Simmons devoted a lot of time to researching the history of the Franklin Expedition. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/06.]-Karl G. Siewert, Hardesty Regional Lib., Tulsa (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Simmons's lumbering seafaring adventure-cum-ghost story is solidly manned by Vance, who invests his reading with a vinegary tang perfectly suitable for the nautical setting. Vance derives special pleasure from the opportunity to dive into the book's mixture of King's English, Cockney, Scottish and Irish accents, delivering each with brio and panache. Working with characters who express themselves lustily, Vance avails himself of the opportunity to chew the scenery and makes the most of it. Simmons's novel mingles genres, alternating between horror and maritime action, and Vance uses tone and pitch to indicate the story's joints and digressions. Vance enjoys declaiming Simmons's characters' speeches in booming voices, as would be appropriate for the book's setting, but those listeners residing in apartments, or with babies, would be advised to keep the sound turned firmly down to avoid any potential noise complaints. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 6). (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Booklist Review
The prolific and versatile Simmons turns to historical fiction in this fine narrative of the lost Franklin expedition of the 1840s, in which nearly 200 men sailed in search of the Northwest Passage aboard two converted naval vessels, Erebus and Terror. They seemingly sailed off the face of the earth, until remains of the longest survivors among them were discovered many years later. Simmons makes the Terror's Captain Crozier his protagonist, and through his eyes we see history infused with sf, fantasy, and horror elements: sf because the expedition went farther into the then unknown than did the Apollo astronauts; fantasy because the hardships of the grippingly described arctic environment played havoc with their minds; and horror because the men perished in ones and twos, in dozens and scores, from boat accidents, falls, scurvy, hypothermia, exposure, starvation, and parasitic infections. Crozier survives by taking refuge among the Inuit and covering the expedition's nightmarish trail by burning his ship and vanishing from civilization, by which time readers may be as emotionally drained as he. Outstanding. --Roland Green Copyright 2006 Booklist
Kirkus Review
Horror novel based on an ill-fated 19th-century polar expedition. Simmons (Olympos, 2005, etc.) tells the story through the eyes of several characters, including the expedition's leader, Sir John Franklin, co-commander Captain Francis Crozier and the ship's surgeon Harry Goodsir. The author jumbles the chronological sequence, beginning in October 1847 with Terror (one of the expedition's two ships; the other was Erebus) trapped in the ice north of Canada, where they have come in search of the Northwest Passage. The initial scene immediately introduces the novel's main supernatural element: a giant bear-like entity (the crew call it the thing) that preys on the explorers and appears invulnerable to their weapons. The expedition is in enough trouble without this hostile being's attention. Food is short, thanks in part to improperly prepared canned goods; the ships have been frozen in thick sea ice for two consecutive winters; many of the crew show signs of scurvy; and temperatures have been consistently 50 or more degrees below zero. Overconfident Franklin has disobeyed orders to leave behind messages detailing his movements, so rescue expeditions have no idea where to search for him. Crozier, for his part, is a chronic drunk, although it doesn't seem to affect his command of his ship and men. Simmons convincingly renders both period details and the nuts and bolts of polar exploration as his narrative moves back and forth in time to show the expedition's launch in 1845 and its early days in the Arctic. Tension builds as the men struggle to survive: The thing is a constant menace, and deaths continue to mount as a result of brutal Arctic conditions. The supernatural element helps resolve the plot in a surprising yet highly effective manner. One of Simmons' best. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
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.
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