Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cold, Unrelenting Terror

Yesterday, I wrote about books that scare us, the stories woven by authors to make our skin crawl. Books that we read alone and wished we hadn’t. Stories that make us crawl deep under the covers in our bed at night.

As I looked through my library, I found a book I read recently that gave me chills for a whole different set of reasons. The setting is different than most horror novels, no haunted house, no forest, no graveyard, no ghosts and ghouls. There is very little blood and gore. What is terrifying about this novel is the horrible isolation, the chilling climate, and the unknown nightmare that stalks the characters relentlessly

The Terror by Dan Simmons is a novel retelling of an actual arctic expedition that was lost in the late 1840’s while searching for the fabled Northwest Passage. In reality, the expedition disappeared and was never heard from again. Simmons takes it from the point at which the two ships were last seen and creates a story that is terrifyingly believable.

As the first winter sets in the northern arctic waters, the ocean freezes around the ships, locking them in the ice. The expeditions leadership expected this and had come prepared with extra fuel and food. What they did not expect was the ice remaining throughout the arctic summer, locking them in for multiple winters, depleting the extra stores they brought. As the men ration their supplies, an unknown, unseen beast begins to ravage the ships crews, one man at a time.

As the situation becomes more desperate, the men must abandon the ships, attempt an escape to a low lying island, while defending themselves against the unknown killer that stalks them.

Simmons is an incredible writer whose description is so vivid the deep cold of the arctic can be felt while you read. You feel the isolation and desperation of the men, and ultimately the fear of the survivors is palpable.

This is an amazing novel, founded on historical fact, constructed on a fascinating conjecture, and capped by a touch of horrific fantasy. The Terror is perfectly described by its own title.

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