Friday 15 February 2013

Coming Attractions | The Abominable Mr. Simmons

Yesterday, Deadline reported that one of my favourite books of recent years is being turned into a TV series by AMC. The Terror is the incredible tale of two ships which were lost in the late 1840s whilst searching for a once-impassable route through the Arctic: the legendary Northwest Passage.

In Dan Simmons' awesome novel, the crew become frozen into the ice for a period of years: The Terror is the story of their survival in these extreme conditions, with limited supplies, fraying tempers, and—here's where it gets particularly interesting—an impossible monster with an appetite for people.

I've always had a soft spot for survival narratives. Also the Arctic. And boy, I do like me my monsters! Indeed, reading The Terror ticked all these boxes before I even realised they existed. So the news that AMC mean to make a TV series out of Simmons' alt-historical story leaves me with... mixed feelings. I'm sure it could be good. Hell, it could be really, really good. On the other hand, the way AMC have "dealt" with The Walking Dead, despite its surprising success, is dismaying.

(Side note: io9's most constructive comment about the announcement was that The Terror isn't The Thing. Well said, sirs! Or... wait. No. I take it back.)

Anyway, though Simmons has had the odd hit since The TerrorDrood was pretty good—by and large he's fallen out of favour again, so I wanted to draw your attention to his next novel, which I only discovered today. It's called The Abominable, and it sounds enticingly like a return to the territory of The Terror
In June 1924, famous British climber George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine disappeared on the North East Ridge of Mount Everest. Most of the subsequent publicity did not mention that two other climbers were missing: the future Lord Wessex and an unnamed German support climber. 
A year later, climber, poet and war hero Richard David Deacon sees a way he and his friends can reach the heights of Mount Everest. He tells Lady Wessex that they will look for her son if she bankrolls the operation. Now the danger Deacon and his group face is not only from the treacherous conditions; they are also warned of the mythical 'man bear' demons of the mountain - which they dismiss until they hear roars so loud they drown out the 100 mile-per-hour wind that is tearing their canvas tent to shreds around them...
Amazon, however, seem to be doing their very best to garble the facts about the book. They're saying The Abominable will be out this April in the UK, weighing in at 432 pages, yet a quick trawl of the forums Simmons himself visits suggests we should be expecting another behemoth, at approximately 800 pages—and in October rather than a mere six weeks from Sunday.

Let me make no bones about it: whenever it's released, and however long it is, I can't wait to read The Abominable.

But after the ghastly Flashback, is anyone else willing to give Dan Simmons another chance?


  1. I found The Terror a difficult read, mostly because of the pacing, but I think that actually contributed to the cold, lonely, claustrophobic atmosphere. Great story, and I could certainly see potential for a series in it.

    I've yet to give Drood a read (it's on my list), but Flashback didn't really hold any appeal.

  2. You bet I'll give him another chance! He's given me too many fantastic reads not to. He's certainly on notice after Flashback, though. Any more nonsense like that and he's toast.

  3. I gave The Terror a good go - but strangely, once the true nature of the monster is revealed, it lost a certain something. I didn't finish it but I did take a look at the last chapter, and didn't regret my decision to call time on it.

    1. All of what you've said is spot on, sir. The Terror did end less brilliantly than it began; and I for one wish Simmons had left the inexplicable unexplained, and the monster monstrous, but say he had... I bet more people would have felt let down, rather than less.

      It's the eternal quandary of the end again, isn't it?

  4. Guh I really need to buy this book... I read "In the heart of the Sea" last year and it was one of the most powerful stories of survival I've ever read. As a Navy guy I think I would find a lot to appreciate with The Terror.

  5. @ Niall Alexander < I for one wish Simmons had left the inexplicable unexplained, and the monster monstrous, but say he had... I bet more people would have felt let down, rather than less.>

    From a few comments I've read here or there, I think that's what THE ABOMINABLE is all about: Simmons is trying the guys trapped in a forsaken, ice and snow-ridden place, withOUT the monster.
    At least I hope that's what he'd doing. Like Daddy Grognard, I think he cheesed out when writing THE TERROR, went limp, and did what he knew best -- wrote according to genre formula, thus producing a monster that satisfied horror fans and SF fans alike. Even if he produces a monster, or, better yet, the hint of a monster, letting the reader decide, I'll just be happy if he doesn't do pull the politically conservative and didactic overkill he did with FLASHBACK and BLACK HILLS. Of course, the notion that he might have borrowed this idea from another writer, or at least been "inspired by" -- William Meikle, author of the short story "Abominable" on Amazon -- doesn't bode well for any originality in Simmons's new novel. Still, I'll reserve final judgement till the book appears.

  6. Publishers Weekly has a review out, but it doesn't sound like a rave review.

    The Abominable
    Dan Simmons. Little, Brown, $28 (672p) ISBN 978-0-316-19883-7:

    Even Jake Perry, the fictional travelogue author Dan Simmons “meets” in his latest novel, jokes that his reader may not make it through this “endless stack of notebooks.” But lovers of Simmons’s blend of alternate history, mystery, and myth will appreciate this three-act thriller set in the interwar years. Young American alpine climber Jake is invited on a “recovery” mission to find Percival Bromley, a British lord who vanished on Mt. Everest. Much of the novel is devoted to the strategies and techniques of mountain climbing as it was developing in the 1920s, and Jake, his friend Jean-Claude, and team leader Deacon spend a lot of time rubbing elbows and comparing gear with real alpinists of the era. But amid the wash of detail, Simmons plants crucial facts and conjectures about early-20th-century Europe that won’t pay off until Jake and his party are nearing the top of the world. Can murder and carnage be fully explained by the evil of men? Is a supernatural threat looming over the expedition? As usual, Simmons doesn’t answer all the questions he’s raised when the mysteries surrounding the loss of Percy Bromley are resolved, but his fans, like Jake, are sure to enjoy the journey. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Associates. (Oct.)