Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Terror

A book, not the next four year of President*. By Dan Simmons.  This is a book that I enjoyed and found lrritating as well.  It is historical fiction about the disastrous Sir John Hope Franklin Arctic expedition to find the Northwest Passage.  

One of my big objections to historical fiction is that it is very easy for the actual historical parts to be blended in the popular imagination with the fiction,  which is often demonstrably false, not even in the realm of maybe it could have happened that way.  (Think of Edward III's ancestry in Braveheart.)

There is no danger of that happening with this book.   It is written in the literary style of magical realism,  which I find offensive,  because it blends the real with an alternative universe of fantasy and the supernatural.   

The eponymous beast is not a real polar bear (which even in this world qualifies as a terror to anyone not carrying a .50 BMG handgun in a quick draw holster), but a supernatural creature.  I am not sure if this an Innuit belief or Dan Simmons' own disturbing imagination.   There are gobs of Innuit belief scattered throughout,  the accuracy of which I do not know, nor do I have any interest in researching it.  

Since it was published before the recent expeditions that have led to the discovery of the wrecks of the ships Terror and Erebus and is based largely on Innuit oral history of the men starving to death and engaging in cannibalism,  I would not let the story influence me too much.

The front cover blurb from Entertainment Weekly describes it as "A masterfully chilling work...brutal,  relentless, yet oddly uplifting."  Perhaps uplifting to a person considering suicide or genocide,  but I found it simply gruesome and dark.  It is a chiller, that is for sure.

While the commander of the expedition, Sir John Hope Franklin, is a God-fearing man, most everyone else is either simply superstitious, only nominally Christian,  or outright evil.  To my surprise, the openly gay (or at least sodomite and catamite, in the language of the time) couple have not been rewritten as jolly sorts driven to murder and cannibalism by homophobic intolerance.

It is disturbing.   The series on AMC does not follow the book terribly closely.  To be honest, this is probably good.  The novel is awash in flashbacks.   In a well-structured novel written to my style, flashbacks have plenty of warning that you are going back in time, perhaps even a blank line or * * *.  The series avoided these often unclear flashbacks. 

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