In 1845, Sir John Franklin departed England as captain of Erebus and leader of an exploratory expedition to forge a path through the last unnavigated...moreIn 1845, Sir John Franklin departed England as captain of Erebus and leader of an exploratory expedition to forge a path through the last unnavigated portion of the Northwest Passage. Franklin, the Erebus, its sister ship The HMS Terror, and all 128 members of the collective crew would never be seen again. The ill-fated voyage has come to be known as Franklin’s Lost Expedition. In The Terror, Dan Simmons recounts what might have happened to the men of Erebus and The Terror.
We follow several characters, from chapter to chapter, often returning to one or two players, Sir Francis Crozier, Captain of The Terror, in particular. The characters are well-drawn and each is given his own arc, easily followed despite the large cast. I found myself wondering, on several occasions, just how true Simmons' take on these people might have been to the true figurants. The amount of research required to craft such a believable cast of characters, within such a believable world, must have been staggering.
Simmons is especially adept at blending historical fiction with horror. He manages to construct a universe in which historical figures, including Franklin and Crozier, are featured as main characters, while plausibly inserting an Inuit witch, cannibalism, and an ice-borne monster into the narrative. Both lovers of horror and historical fiction should feel perfectly at home in Simmons' universe, in turns reading through the diary of Dr. Harry Goodsir and wondering at the nature of the quite-possibly supernatural beast roaming the dark regions that surround the marooned ships.
There is a post-apocalyptic tone to the narrative, with its characters wandering a hostile, barren environment. The setting alone—given the situation in which the characters find themselves—is enough to elicit tension and conflict. The monster, supernatural or not, only adds to the suspense and mystery, as the author combines a survival narrative with the likes of Jaws or Jurassic Park.
Simmons' style is highly literate but accessible; mimicking the language and tone of Franklin's day while maintaining a rapid pace. Yes, The Terror is somewhat overlong and, though its pace is swift, it is forced to slow at times, gasping for a breath of frigid air, but the story is fascinating, the conflict non-stop and varied, and the characters vivid. Its length, in fact, ensures that we are thoroughly immersed in the narrative so that, by its end, we feel we have been through nearly as harrowing an adventure as have the crews of the Terror and Erebus.
I greatly enjoyed The Terror, and look forward to reading Simmons' most recent foray into historical horror, Black Hills. (less)
A young woman named Kathy H provides the narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go. She is reminiscing, telling us about her days, with friends, R...moreA young woman named Kathy H provides the narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go. She is reminiscing, telling us about her days, with friends, Ruth and Tommy among them, at Hailsham, a boarding school of sorts in the English countryside. We learn early on that there was something unusual about their upbringing. For one thing, teachers are referred to as Guardians and parents are never referred to at all. Kathy's story jumps from one episode to another, one memory leading to the next which then leads to a third and back to the first again. But the sense is of a good friend telling us about her childhood, rather than a rambling discourse by a stranger lost in her own autobiography. The author accomplishes this by couching Kathy's narrative in the familiar.
Ishiguro's telling is a perfectly true to life representation of childhood, complete with the type of conspiracies, both real (the mysterious gallery) and imagined (the kidnapping of Miss Geraldine), that could only occupy the minds of children; as well as a realistic telling of growing up, of loss and joy, of friendship and sex. It is this attention to the little things, to tiny episodes of daily living, familiar to anyone who was once an eight-year-old or a sixteen-year-old or twenty or thirty-year old, that imbues the story with such sadness and, even, a sense of horror. We know, as they know, what is coming, what must come. But, like Ishiguro's characters, we never get a full sense of what that future might mean. Just as we rarely focus on our own futures with real intensity, admitting how this will never change and how that surely will, Kathy and her friends live their lives day to day, moment to moment, placing on each of these snippets of life, of living, as much importance as any one of us would. Just as you are the star in the story of your life, just as I am the main player in my own story, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all leads in their respective tales. The difference is that, unlike you, unlike me, these eight-year-olds, these sixteen-year-olds, these twenty and thirty-year olds, all know how their stories will end.
Though Ishiguro’s focus on small, seemingly incidental vignettes can become tedious at time, veering from the familiar into the banal, the novel's structure, divided into three distinct parts, ensures that the story grows by larger, more substantive increments along with the tiny, snapshot-like ones. Ishiguro’s writing style, his use of a friendly, engaging narrator, also ensures that, for all its darkness, the story is a pleasant one, and one Kathy seems to have enjoyed sharing with us. (less)