The Terror: A Novel By Dan Simmons

Be Prepared, January 15, 2007
By J.Brian Watkins

Staggering. This book is a litany of failure and not so subtly the failure of western civilization itself; however, there is a surprisingly redemptive streak running throughout. Simmons is a tremendous author, capable of producing masterworks in any genre of his choosing and he is at the top of his powers in this work, which though ostensibly historical fiction owes a debt to mystery, biography, horror, and science-fiction with liberal doses of Shakespeare, sociology and philosophy.

More than a retelling of the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, “Terror” is the story of Captain Francis Crozier who commands HMS Terror. Crozier has to overcome bad food, poor leadership, even poorer subordinates, mutinous sailors, cold, scurvy and a Monster, in order to reconcile himself with the future that he has seen but fails to understand. Strangely the journey through this dark and 750 plus page novel is ultimately reaffirming and as voiced by a character late in the novel, salvation was always waiting for Crozier who just had to make his choice.

Though ostensibly about failure, this book summarizes the triumph of man over adversity. Though ostensibly about discovery, the book details the tragedy of men dying needlessly within reach of the very survival skills they refused to seek much less adopt. This duality of themes gives great weight to the story; indeed, Simmons quotes liberally from Hobbes, Shakespeare, Homer, Poe and probably several others that I missed. And for fear of spoiling the read, suffice it to say that the author’s erudition serves his purpose of rendering the tale disturbingly modern. It is a cautionary tale and in his wisdom, Simmons leaves us to determine what we take from it