Today’s New York Times Book Review has a piece on Dan Simmons’ new novel, The Terror. After an unflattering acknowledgment of Simmons’ talents—he’s “managed to generate” over two dozen books “in an impressive variety of genres”—critic Terrence Rafferty dismisses this latest effort as an act of hubris. Simmons must have been crazy, he says, to think this was a good idea for a novel.
The Terror is a fictionalized account of a 19th-century British naval expedition that set out to find the Northwest Passage. The two ships involved, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, got stuck in the polar ice, and their crews died (in real life, the men starved and froze to death; in Simmons’ version, there’s also a monster). Rafferty’s objection isn’t to the subject matter, but to the way Simmons decides to tackle it: “[O]f the many possible approaches to making artistic sense of the…fiasco, just about the least promising…would be to turn it into an epic-length ripping yarn.”
Which is just what I was thinking. An adventure story about a doomed polar expedition? Dan Simmons, are you smoking CRACK?