Dan Simmons

"The Terror"

(reviewed by Ann Wilkes MAY 5, 2007)

Dan Simmons, author of the best selling Hyperion Cantos and  Ilium science fiction series and the Joe Kurtz thriller series, delivers a novel that doesn't fit neatly in any one genre. The Terror is set during the historic search for the Northwest Passage when Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition never returned to tell their tale. Evidence unearthed recently points to scurvy and lead poisoning from the tinned foods that were meant to keep them nourished for three years. Once Terror parts company with the whalers at Baffin Bay, the field is wide open for Simmons' interpretation and imagination of what fantastic things may have happened while simultaneously grounding the reader in naval life of that era. The Franklin Expedition consisted of two ships, the Terror and the Erebus, the same ships that Captain Crozier had sailed with near the other pole to find Antarctica under the command of James Ross. 

With the two ships frozen into the ice, facing another year northwest of King William Land (which they discover is an island) without a spring thaw, the elements are not the only enemy. A beast of impossible proportions stalks the men, dismembering, crushing and eating as it goes.

"It's William Strong and Tommy Evans, sir. They're back."

Crozier blinks. "What the devil do you mean, back? Alive?" He feels the first surge of hope he's had for months.

"Oh, no sir," says Irving. "Jus…one body…really. But it was propped against the stern rail…"
"It?" snaps Crozier. "One body? Back on the ship?" This makes no sense at all to the Terror's captain. "I thought you said both Strong and Evans were back."

Third Lieutenant Irving's entire face is frostbite white now. "They are, Captain. Or at least half of them. When we went to look at the body propped there at the stern, it fell over and…well…came apart. As best we can tell, it's Billy Strong from the waist up. Tommy Evans from the waist down."

A sledge party returns with a dead lieutenant crushed by the beast and two Esquimaux. The Esquimaux man dies from a gun shot wound inflicted by the sledge party and Crozier assigns his junior lieutenant, John Irving, to keep an eye on the tongueless Esquimaux woman aboard the Terror. Her tongue has not just been cut, which is a brutal enough act…

"Look again, Dr. Goodsir," he (Dr. McDonald) all but whispered. "It is not a neat surgical circular amputation, not even by so crude an instrument as a stone knife. The poor lass's tongue was chewed off when she was very small -- and so close to the root of the member that there is no possibility she did this to herself."

Some of the crew believes she is somehow connected to the beast's attacks and lay plans to kill her. An agitator incites mutiny.

"And it was all over the Esquimaux woman?"

Peglar nodded, then pulled his Welsh wig and comforter tighter…"Hickey and a majority of the men had learned that the wench had tunneled a way out through the hull before Christmas.…She'd been coming and going at will from her den in the forward cable locker. Mr. Honey and his carpenter mates had fixed the breech in the hull, and Mr. Irving had collapsed the outside tunnel route…and word leaked out…For all I know, they thought she was the thing on the ice. Or at least its consort. Most of the men have been convinced for months that she's a heathen witch."

To rally morale before cutting rations in the dead of winter, the men are allowed to organize a Carnivale, complete with costumes brought on board by their recently devoured expedition leader, Sir John Franklin. The party ends in a brutal attack by the beast and a devastating fire.

With their expedition leader gone and Crozier's counterpart on Erebus dying, Crozier must assume command. First, he turns command over to Lieutenant Little temporarily. After polishing off his last bottle of whiskey, he sequesters himself in his cabin to free himself of the alcohol that has numbed him for more than thirty years. The most compelling character on this deadly, life-changing odyssey is Crozier in his determination to save the remaining 105 men and bring them home and the seemingly preordained detours that waylay him.

All of Simmons' characters come alive, each giving unique insights in their responses to the stress, fear, privation and the harsh elements. Simmons puts you right next to them in their smelly, cramped and freezing bunk or tent. Within the pages of The Terror, you will see the crew subjected to privation, starvation, frostbite, scurvy, infection, predators (both beast and man), mutineers and lashings with the “Cat (of Nine Tails).” You will also find heroes, self-sacrifice, fortitude, mystery and fantastic events. Good reading.

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 332 reviews

Read an excerpt from Terror at Hachette Book Group

(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Hyperion Cantos:

Illiad Series:

Other Novels:

Joe Kurtz Series:


(back to top)

Book Marks:

More on Dan Simmons at MostlyFiction.com:


(back to top)

About the Author:

Dan SimmonsDan Simmons was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1948 and grew up in various cities and small towns in the Midwest. Dan received a B.A. in English from Wabash College in 1970, winning a national Phi Beta Kappa Award during his senior year for excellence in fiction, journalism and art. Dan received his Masters in Education from Washington University in St. Louis in 1971. He then worked in elementary education for 18 years, the last 14 of which were in Colorado.

Dan has been a full-time writer since 1987. He is one of the few novelists whose work spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, suspense, historical fiction, noir crime fiction, and mainstream literary fiction . His books are published in 27 foreign counties as well as the U.S. and Canada. Research for his books has taken him to India, Transylvania, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Hawaii and Peoria, Illinois. Hyperion won the Hugo award in 1990. The Rise of Endymion was nominated for the 1998 Hugo.

He lives in Colorado along the front range of the Rockies. When he's not at work writing, he enjoys camping, hiking, reading, art and music.

MostlyFiction.com About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014 MostlyFiction.com