In a historical epic that rivals Simmons’s science fiction epic Hyperion, The Terror is the incredible fictional story of the journey made by Captain Sir John Franklin and his expedition to discover the northwest passage, which departed from England in 1845. Written mainly from the viewpoint of Captain Francis Crozier, who runs the crew on the ship HMS Terror (Franklin is in charge of HMS Erebus), The Terror will take readers to the very limits of their imaginations, tactile abilities, and hopes and dreams; leaving them exhausted but very satisfied by the end.
The story begins with both ships trapped in the ice. Simmons overloads with description of this frozen wasteland which is an everyday struggle, as the crews fight to keep warm, fed, and the boilers in the ships running, otherwise they’ll all freeze to death very quickly. The men try to make the most of it, even having a masked ball on the ice in mimicry of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Then there is the decreasing citrus stock, with the full realization that cases of scurvy will begin very soon. But everything is still frozen, even though it is summer and there seems little hope left for them. Crozier seems to know this, taking heavily to what alcohol there is on Terror and keeping it for himself, as his grasp on reality lessens a little each day.
Then there is the monster. A terrifying beast that has been taking and killing men, leaving nothing but bloody smears on the white ice. The beast matches descriptions of a giant bear, an abominable snowman, and possibly a nightmare from an Inuit folk tale. But little can be done as the men continue to disappear one by one. Franklin eventually abandons the Erebus which has stopped working, while some of its crew have turned violent and insane. But they cannot all stay on Terror, and the decision is eventually made to venture into the icy waste in a presumed direction to an Inuit habitation. Whether they will make it through or all die of exposure is a reality that will be faced each day they travel further across the ice.
Simmons takes on a classic legend that has few facts and turns it into an incredible story of adventure, survival, and testing the very limits of humanity. He has outdone himself with his complex, complete characters, interesting plot developments and subplots, and skillfully balancing the fantastic fiction with the true story, giving possible answers to one of the greatest mysteries in history. The Terror is a book not for the faint of heart, but for those who seek to know what it is that keeps the human spirit going when all hope is lost; this is the book for you. Especially if you have a thing for cannibalism.
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Originally written on January 10th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.