“The Terror” by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown and Company, 2007)

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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.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 10th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Dan Simmons check out BookBanter Episode 4.

“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons (Doubleday, 1989)

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Hyperion is the first book in Dan Simmons’ epic Hyperion Cantos tetralogy.  In this opening tale, seven unique travelers are brought together on a journey, a pilgrimage to the distant and mysterious planet of Hyperion, where they will face the Time Tombs and perhaps the dreaded Shrike.  The galaxy is on the brink of Armageddon, and the pilgrims hope to somehow save it, and ultimately find their destinies on Hyperion.

Employing the structure of the Canterbury Tales, Simmons brings seven very different characters together.  It is some centuries in the future, Planet Earth is no more, having been destroyed in a science experiment now known as the “Great Mistake.”  But humanity has conquered the stars and traveled far throughout the galaxy.  It is a great age, when one can skip across thousands of light years in the blink of an eye with the use of a Farcaster: a teleportation door that takes you where you want to go, created and developed by the AI TechnoCore.

But the Ousters are coming.  A distant alien civilization about which little is known, except that they are hostile and a grave threat.  It could all end now.  The important vantage point is the distant planet of Hyperion, not even a member of the Hegemony of Man, where there are the Time Tombs.  These ancient tombs are shrouded in mystery and suspicion; all that remains of an ancient race known as the Shrike, but they may be the salvation that humanity has been waiting for.  And now these seven travelers hope to somehow activate these Time Tombs and save civilization.

Simmons begins the story in medias res, introducing the reader to these seven strangers in a world about which nothing is known, but he skillfully reveals everything through the minds, imaginations, and stories of these seven characters.  There is Het Masteen, a member of the Templars, a tall and proud but quiet race who created and control the powerful Treeships that possess the Hawking Drive which is able to send ships across the stars at astonishing speeds; Masteen is the captain of the Yggdrasill, the ship that will take the pilgrims to Hyperion; he is also one of the pilgrims with his own unique story to tell.  There is Father Lenar Hoyt, whose story is The Priest’s Tale, about the Catholic world and existence of the parasite known as the cruciform which can reincarnate life.  Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a member of the FORCE military who is searching for a supernatural figure that has come to him many times in his dreams in The Soldier’s Tale.  Martin Silenus, in The Poet’s Tale, tells of his life as a failed poet who nearly loses his life and then begins his opus that will make him remembered throughout the centuries.

The Scholar’s Tale from Sol Weintraub is the most moving story from the pilgrims as he recounts how his daughter, Rachel, was an archaeologist studying the Time Tombs and after a strange accident begins to grow younger each day.  She returns to her family to live with them as she decreases in age, needing to have her story recounted to her each day as she no longer remembers.  Eventually a short and easy version is made to be told by Sol each morning to her.  Sol and his wife, Sarai, relive the raising of their daughter backwards through time.  And now it is up to Sol to return to the Time Tombs with baby Rachel who is now just weeks old and will soon simply disappear.

Tge Detective’s Tale from Brawne Lamia is a noir tale of her job as a private eye with a client who is a cybrid: a cloned human with electronic implants controlled by the TechnoCore.  Someone is trying to kill him and destroy his memory, and it’s up to Lamia to figure out who is behind it all.  In the final story, The Consul’s Tale, as the Consul talks of his grandparents on the planet of Maui-Covenant which was once a paradise but when the first Farcaster was opened, became a tourist destination and its beauty was destroyed forever.  The Consul also talks about his work as a secret agent for the Hegemony in infiltrating the Ousters.

The book ends with the pilgrims finally reaching the Time Tombs.  While the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, is the book which explains a lot more of the world and everything that eventually happens, there is a specialty about Hyperion, a uniqueness with it’s original characters and their incredible stories.  Simmons epic universe employs multiple forms of the science fiction genre, making it a complex and fascinating world in which most people would like to live in.  In a way, Simmons has essentially rewritten the Canterbury Tales of the far future, with some incredible stories that stand out as moving novellas on their own, and a cast of characters readers won’t soon forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 5th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Dan Simmons check out BookBanter Episode 4.