I’m reading the most wonderful book at the moment called “Drood” by Dan Simmons. I was slightly taken aback when I saw it on a Charles Dickens display in the library for several reasons: Dan Simmons writing about Dickens or, at least, one of his characters; Dan Simmons had a new book out and I hadn’t known (which is usual); the library having that I might actually want to read.
I’m more familiar with Dan Simmons as a writer of sci-fi and horror. “Hyperion” remains my most favourite sci-fi book, something I could never hope to emulate. It was when I read it that I realised that good sci-fi authors actually wrote well: they had an excellent grasp of the English language (the world of sci-fi has long since moved away from pulp fiction) and an excellent grasp of science. I have neither so my admiration of Dan Simmons’ work was a bittersweet thing.
He also invented the best weirdo sci-fi religion I’ve ever come across. In “Hyperion”, a priest goes to a planet (could it actually be the planet Hyperion?) and finds there, beyond the burning forest, a group of moronic people. In the caves, he finds growing on the walls crosses made of something like flesh, living things. It transpires that all these moronic people have a cross on their chests, where it is part of them, and acts as a resurrection device: they can’t die. One of these crosses is attached to our priest. At this point my memory fails me – it was either this priest or the one he’d been looking for and was lost that ends up hanging on one of the burning trees. The trees periodically burst into flame. And every time they did, the priest would die. Only to be resurrected by his creepy cross of flesh.
Eventually this cross device was used as to resurrect space travellers going at such phenomenal speeds (an advantage in a multi-planet society) that their bodies would be turned to strawberry jam. In other words, they would be killed, then resurrected when they got to the other end.
You gotta admit, as ideas go, this is amazing stuff. (Or it is to me!)
It’s hard to get hold of Dan Simmons books here, for some reason (Amazon not withstanding) but aside from the Hyperion quartet (consisting of two double sets), I’ve also read an earlier work of horror, called “The Hollow Man,” which remains unforgettable. I was less impressed with “Ilium” which at least proved that Simmons isn’t infallible.
Until “Drood.” What an excellent book. It’s told in the first person by Wilkie Collins, who wrote such famous books as “Woman in White” and “The Moonstone.” He was a buddy of Charles Dickens, and if the biographical aspect of “Drood” is correct, riddled with jealousy. He was also an opium addict as a result of grotesque physical pain and it’s this that makes the book so brilliant.
The book starts five years before Dickens’ death with a train crash in which there were few survivors, Dickens one of them, as well as a terrifying character called Drood. “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” was Dickens’ last novel, and incomplete as well. I haven’t read it but am familiar with the story, much of which is recognisable in this novel.
But what one can’t know (I haven’t finished the book yet) is whether Drood really does exist, whether he really does have a hold on Dickens, whether Dickens really does intend to murder someone or has already done so.
I’m two thirds of the way through and so far, the story could swing either way: Dickens really did take a terrible secret to the grave. Or Wilkie Collins is a drug-fuelled paranoiac, suffering bizarre hallucinations and visions as a result a vast consumption of laudanum. Needless to say, the book is unputdownable and I can’t wait to find out!
It’s also written in a convincing Wilkie Collins style. There are enough facts and figures and letters and such to make it feel autobiographical. It’s as if Wilkie Collins wrote it. The roots still lie in horror, however; Wilkie Collins was a sensationalist writer and Dan Simmons has taken that and developed it to what I hope will be a brilliant solution.