Friday, March 14, 2008

Dan Simmons - The Terror (Book Review)


"The Terror" came as a welcome refreshement after all the fantasy I've read lately. There are absolutely no dragons involved, neither is there any magic or mighty knights strutting out of the pages. Yay! (There are, however, some affluent and snotty snobs, but in the terms of the 19th century England's upper class rather than medieval nobility.) This is one of the things that gives "The Terror" such appeal and a particular feeling of substantiality.
At first, I've had some second thoughts about buying the book, since I've read a couple of reviews that left me confused and unconvinced. While some reviewers praised the book as if they had been paid for it, others complained about it being long-winded and including too many complex and unfamiliar nautical terms that really bear down on the story.

This last thing must've been written by some ''spoiled'' native speaker, because although I still haven't got a slightest idea who a caulker could be (or more specifically, what his job is), I understood well enough that he has some kind of a professional function on the ship and I'm completely satisfied with that. If English is your mother tongue, you can take your time and look up the unknown words in the dictionary – there really aren't that many in the book. And if you're not a native speaker, you don't need to worry, because not being able to discern different parts of the deck will not rob you of jour reading experience. Besides, everybody knows that constant skimming through the dictionary is a time-consuming activity that usually breaks the flow of the reading process. (I looked up what the hell a 'sperm whale' could be, though, and it figures out that it's the Moby Dick one. I nearly died laughing afterwards. :)

Secondly, the book is eons away from boring. Simmons' style of writing is brilliant (as I've already induced from reading "Hyperion" and its immediate sequel) and keeps the reader awake and alert – at least until s/he decides that the stuff is getting too scary since it's very, VERY dark outside and maybe s/he should stop reading the book until tomorrow when there's plenty of light. The amount of scary you feel probably depends on your personality and while I don't consider myself the kind of girl who gets scared easily, I really dislike the idea of an unknown evil lurking in the dark (it's always better to know exactly who or what you are up against). Especially since the arctic night lasts for 24 hours a day; it's pretty damn frustrating. I have to admit I was very glad when there was someone else in the room with me when I was reading. That helped to prevent my imagination from going wild, but the book in consequence lost some of its effect.

Another thing I've noticed is how impossibly knowledgeable Simmons is and how much effort he put into researching the book's topic. While explaining just about everything that is of any relevance regarding the expedition (I read a Wikipedia article about it afterwards and it only proved that, excluding the 'evil' thing, "The Terror" follows the recorded facts faithfully, thus being a (partly) historical novel as well as a horror one); he studied and explained the Esquimaux's culture as well. What I also loved is the hommage to E. A. Poe (mentioned in the novel as 'that American writer' – one of my favourite chapters in the book is a tribute to his "The Masque of the Red Death").

When I try to find a weak spot that would mar the book, I seem to fail. Maybe the ending will not be to everyone's satisfaction since it is pretty unusual, but for me presents an interesting alternative to the 'classical' endings we are so familiar with. I actually liked the loose ends left hanging. I'm ordinarily against giving a perfect score – I agree with Thrinidir's take on this point – but at the same time, I don't know what more could I expect from a book of this genre. "The Terror" is a brilliant book, but as I already mentioned, it was otherwise met with mixed feelings. Give it a try, though; I say it's worth it.

A perfect mark (five out of five):


~ Trin ~


J.G. Thomas said...

Good review, and interesting to see that you thought pretty much the same as myself!

I don't think at all that the nautical terms are a hindrance - you just made me realise that I read the entire novel without having a clue what a 'caulker' is!

I also agree that many won't find the ending as satisfying as it could have been. I wouldn't call myself one of those people, but it still didn't feel quite right.

Not enough to spoil an excellent book though, and well worthy of the score you gave it.

sparky said...

I really admire the heavy lifting required for Simmons to have pulled this off as well as he did. But still, if you've read anything about Arctic/Antarctic exploration (like the Shakelton voyage, etc.) it'll ring kinda like 'same old, same old'. Or at least it did for me. Plus, there's only so many ways you can describe snow, ice, and more snow.

argon said...

Hiya! What a pleasure to read a "down to earth" review for a change!

I mean, don't get me wrong you English native speaker folks, but often reading some of your elaborate pieces of writing I just sit and gape at the flamboyant use of adjectives and adverbs and so on. I'm such distracted that in the end I'm sort of awe of your command of English and don't get much about the book.
'sperm whale' haha, indeed

Way to go, trin

Trin said...

@j.g., nice to see that someone agrees with me :) I'm glad you found the review interesting.

@sparky: that's probably true. For me, The Terror is the first book on Arctic/Antarctic expeditions I've ever read (the subject never interested me much until now), and I guess that explains why it left me so stunned.

@argon: tnx! :) for enjoying the review & making me laugh, I've experienced the exacly same thing you described so many times :D

Dan said...

Well I've read Illium and it was great. Maybe I should read The Terror to. It sounds ok.

Jen said...

Honestly, how many people would understand nautical terms in their mother tongue? The Jules Verne translations I read were very accurate, but I never understood which part is which. It was a general "stuff on a ship", "people who do stuff on a ship", "boss-guy", "lower guy" kind of thing. Unless you're a sailor, who cares what everything means...


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