LitStack Rec: Desperate Characters & The Terror

by Lauren Alwan

The Terror, by Dan Simmonsdan

Here’s something slightly different: a recommendation for book you should definitely read – but maybe not right now.

Dan Simmons’ historical horror/speculative fiction novel The Terror encompasses exactly that, and more. The novel has as its backbone Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845 – 1848 attempting to open the Northwest Passage (a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the northern reaches of North America). It would have been bad enough to read the harrowing account of two ships braving the frigid waters of the Northern Territories; eventually the ships become icebound and all 129 men, including famed Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, perish. But add to this a horrifying, unknown terror in monster form preying on (and toying with) the men already struggling for survival, and you have the makings of a chilling tale that will literally freeze the blood in your veins.

So what does the title of the book allude to? Being stuck for weeks, months, perhaps longer, in inescapable ice with little hope for survival outside of brute endurance? (Realistic.) Or the more pragmatic knowledge that one of the stuck ships has been christened the HMS Terror? (That’s true.) Pretty obviously it’s at least partly to the absolutely horrifying – and I mean terrifying … thing out there stalking the men. (Hopefully that’s total imagination.)

While I highly recommend this book – which takes historical fiction to a whole new level – I would not in any way, shape or form suggest reading it during any month where there is any chance of snow, ice, cold or even a hint of such in the reader’s tactile world. It is, frankly, just too terrifying. Even a person like me, who enjoys and even embraces winter, should think twice about reading this hyper-real tale when the world outside mimics the environment of the book. Once you close it for the night, if there is any icy wind blowing or any chill in the air, the horrible monster will be lurking right around the corner, I guarantee it. No, save this volume for the sweltering summer, when you will need the heat and the sweat and the hot summer breeze to remind you that it is, after all, only a story.

—Sharon Browning

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