From the Terror to the Horror

The TerrorI finally finished reading The Terror and the rumors are true: it bogs down a wee bit in the middle to the late-middle then ramps up for a surprising and rousing conclusion.  (Mr. Simmons, will you please teach Mr. Stephenson how to do that?)  Once I got the characters straight in my head, I really rather liked this book.  It wasn’t fantastic but it was very good.  I espcially enjoyed how the scary snow/ice demon wasn’t ever totally explained in a realistic way, leaving plenty to the imagination and the realms of folklore.  I also enjoyed how everything for the poor souls aboard Terror and Erebus would have been absolutely awful enough without the ice demon!  That’s what really threw it over the edge in terms of feelings of hopelessness.  I also really liked the description of the slow descent into insanity of the Hickey character and particularly the description of how he froze to death: it was so well done that Simmons never once out and out said, Hickey is freezing to death.  You just got it. After the ending, I feel like the book could have been improved by being about 100 pages (to be perfectly arbitrary) shorter.  There was a lot of character backstory that didn’t have to be told in as great of depth as it was (always my complaint with Patrick O’Brien) and could have better been accomplished with shorter anecdotes.  When reading those sections I found myself saying, “I don’t care. Can we get back to the ship part of the story please?”  Fans of horror may or may not enjoy this book, depending on what other genres they enjoy.  Fans of horror who are only fans of horror will probably find this book to be too long and not horrific enough.  Fans that enjoy reading adventure stories, historical novels, and/or horror as well will be right at home.  I look forward to reading Simmons’ latest, Drood, but will have to wait a while; it is large as well and I want to forget for a time that Simmons’ bogs down in the middle.

Victor, Griffin, and I have discovered and have been playing the board game Arkham Horror recently.

Arkham Horror - the Board Game
Arkham Horror – the Board Game

It’s a game based off the stories of Lovercraft and let me just say, it is amazing.  5 hours long sometimes, but amazing.

That has led me to pick up some Lovecraft and start reading again, some stories I’ve read before but mostly some ones I haven’t.  When I first read Lovecraft, I knew at some level that he was awesome, but didn’t fully understand him or appreciate his writing style.  Now that I am older, or at least some time has passed, I think I get Lovecraft on a whole new level.  And that is fun, cause he is incredible.  No other writer has the power to induce such terrifyingly vivid dreams as he does.  Think the Shoggoth pit is bad in the stories?  Wait til you dream about it and how your mind makes it up.  <Shudder>  Right now I’m on a great little tale called The Whisperer in Darkness: it follows the typical Lovecraftain formula of science minded fellow encountering a tale of horror that cannot possibly be true and then slowly discovering it is.  But it is fun to read how that happens each time.  And, when combined with the game, it is especially fun to see where the inspiration for the game pieces arise from.

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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.

We have an accord

Which is another way of saying, “I agree.”

I agree, after some reflection, with a Goodreads commentor who said of Marisha Pessl’s novel that at times the characters said things which were just not believable for high school students, no matter how erudite, to say.

I think they also did things at times which were less than believable, but mostly it was their speech.  The smartest kids I knew in high school, when out of school and among friends, talked more or less like high school students.  Maybe an SAT word or two crept into our sentences, but mostly, we were, like, you know, average kids.

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I’ve really gotten into Simmon’s novel, The Terror.  I’m about 160 pages into it already, which is pretty far for me in this short amount of time.  So far I find it fast paced (despite warnings from goodreads commentors that it slows down, I haven’t seen that yet) and exciting.  The dialogue and adventure part reminds me of the best parts of Patrick O’Brien’s work – though I eventually gave up on that series because I wanted to read sea-adventure, not victorian love triangles that take place while on shore leave.  Give me more cannon fire and booty, more storms and reefs, man!  Anyway, The Terror, surprisingly, does that.  Even though they’re ice-locked in the Arctic.  The descriptions are awesome and the characters, so far, are genuine and believable.  The total atmosphere altering effect the presence of the native american woman has on the men is great!  The ice demon thing, so far, is great.  Now, here’s to hoping he doesn’t reveal too much about it.  Ever.  I hate monster stories that tell you everything about the monster.  Leave some mystery in it.  Please.  My imagination will run wild, I promise.  And it’ll be scarier.  Here’s to hoping.

Calamity of an Ending

Well, Pessl’s first novel didn’t quite end the way I anticipated, and I don’t know if that disappoints me or not.  Hannah Schneider turned out to be some sort of agent for a rebel pseudo-political group called the Nightwatchmen, and so did, apparently, Blue’s father.  The second is harder for me to swallow than the first.  Actually, I think I just decided, I didn’t like the ending. The story was so sinister, so believably dark up until she brought in this Nightwatchmen thing.  Hannah, the strange teacher, hugely popular and overly interested in minors (even sleeping with one of them), who happens to have the unfortunate experience of having someone die in a drunk drowning accident at her party.  Later, she is murdered/committed suicide in the woods – I like the suicide angle better, it fits her character better.  On the surface, cool as a cucumber, but underneath, solar flare.  Depressed.  Anxious.  Unsatisfied.  Gets her jollies by contributing to the deliquency of minors, overcoming that horrid feeling of never quite being popular enough when she was in school.  I think that’s a character more people could identify with.  As far as Blue’s father goes – well he was a weird one from the beginning, but a secret agent for a revolutionary group?  I have to stretch just a bit too much on that one.

All that aside, this was a great book.  4 stars.  It was fun to read, a surprising page turner, with colorful characters in which I think a lot of us could see a part of ourselves (usually parts we don’t like, too), and so it worked as a social mirror.  I liked the way it was written – as I noted, several fantastic observations and turns of phrase.  I just wished the ending was a bit more on the believable side.  But, it won’t deter me from her next book whenever it comes out, whatever it is.

I have turned now back to the realm of speculative fiction.  This time I chose Dan Simmons’ The Terror: A Novel.  I’ve read a lot of Simmons before and I like him.  I like how he’s almost perversely allusive to other works of literature and poetry.  The man is in love with Keats, for example.  But this book seems wholly unlike anything I’ve read by him before (both Hyperions, Ilium, Olympos).  I’ve heard really good things about it too – and so far, it has lived up to the hype.  I’m reading this book in in the beginning of summer in Florida, while running on the treadmill, and it made me feel cold.  (It takes place on a frozen ship in the Arctic, exploring unexplored regions in about 1847.)  His descriptions run chill all through your body.  “To touch iron was to lose flesh.”  The power of the ice as he describes it is incredible.  I’m looking forward to the sort of retro-adventure style combined with some good ole fashioned monster horror.  And if I know Simmons, his characters will be fun and empathetic.