Terror

I’m about 428 pages into Dan Simmons’ The Terror and I am enjoying it still.  Many folks who’ve commented on it have said that it bogs down somewhere in the middle and I don’t know if I’ve gotten there yet or not (the book is almost 800 pages) but so far I haven’t felt it get sluggish too much.  There have been some ten or fifteen page sections that were a little numbing, but nothing prolonged.

I really enjoy his descriptions of the ice and all the challenges associated with that.  Sometimes while reading it, I actually feel cold.  It’s incredible.  I like how the ice monster beast thing is also only one of their myriad potentially catastrophic problems.  It would have been easy as an author to focus on the monster alone and ignore the other potent challenges that are certainly present: disease, malnutrition, -100 degree weather, ice smashing the ships apart, mutiny, and the like.  But Simmons pays full attention to all of those things, in fact, he gives them precedence I think.  That makes it all the more awful when the beast shows up and kills two or three sailors.  It makes one despair and cry aloud, as if it already weren’t enough!

If anything, the story features too many characters; I felt this was a difficulty also with Patrick O’Brien’s stories.  When writing about a ship and its crew, it is hard to characterize well a few characters while still including all the other necessary people.  Simmons does a fair job at this, but I still find myself getting confused sometimes.  Who was that again?  Wait, was this the alcoholic captain or the other one?  Who’s the first mate?   I thought that was the bosun’s mate.  Hmmm? That sort of thing.  As far into it as I am now, I’m getting a feel for the principles but to me, that should have happened about 300 pages ago.

In the intervening time, I’ve found myself in a distinctly Lovecraftian mood.  Sometimes this happens and the only thing to do is feed the beast.  I grabbed one of my collections off the shelf and tore through “Azathoth,” and “The Thing on the Doorstep.”

“Azathoth” was like reading someone’s dream journal – a terrifying and head scrathching one, but a dream journal.  I actually read it out loud to myself and found that that worked great.  It’s short and the language has an even more powerful effect when heard.  “The Thing on the Doorstep” was incredible.  I had not read that one before and chose it because I wanted to read an Arkham story.  It was the tale of a man whose body was being stolen by his wife who through dark magic exchanged her soul and his into their respective bodies. This story had everything that makes Lovecraft the horror master: intrigue, mystery, terror, gross things, unnameable unspeakable horrors from somewhere Beyond, death, insanity, and passion.  I highly recommend it to anyone as a good place to start with Lovecraft if you haven’t delved into his mad pages before.

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