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Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: The Terror, by Dan Simmons

The TerrorThe Terror by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to review. It is amazing and very well-written, but it also has some offensive material in it that make it hard for me to recommend it. This is a very creepy, chilling novel set in a true historical setting: The ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are looking for the northwest passage in the 1840s and end up frozen in the arctic ice for a few years.

What is true in the book and what is fiction? I still don't know. What is real to us in the tradition of Western thought, and is our reality any better or worse than that of a native Indian culture? Is just one reality true? I've been mulling these kinds of questions quite a bit after finishing The Terror.
It's a mammoth book, and I knew it was well written when I felt like I personally had been stuck in the ice for three years while reading this. It's so torturous. You live moment by moment with these men.

And since this is a book about sailors, there is plenty of sailor language that you have to skim over as you read, and also a couple of sexual situations (again, not surprising, considering the cast of characters). So you have to self-edit when you read this. But the part you can't skip is the scenes where an unknown terrible monster/polar bear/malevolent force (you decide!) stalks its victim and sometimes leaves some carnage behind. The monster scenes are central to the plot, and besides, the anticipation really gets your heart pounding. So you can't skip that.

So...to read or not to read? I can't say. I thought it was an incredible novel--an experience, not just a read--but you have to be willing to wade through some offensive stuff. (If you read it, let me know, because I'd like someone else's take on it.)

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