Book Review: The Abominable by Dan Simmons

Before I start this review, let me just say briefly: stick with it – this book explodes into life after a slow start.

I read this without having any idea what it was about, without seeing a blurb or any reviews. So I was rather disappointed to find that it was about mountain climbing. My most favourite sci fi book of all time is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, followed by The Fall of Hyperion, and it was only later that I realised he seems comfortable in any genre, particularly horror. I thought this was going to be about the abominable snowman, or yeti. But the slow-paced mountaineering stuff bored me to death and I ditched it before I’d reached page 30.

I gave it another go, starting from the beginning again, and got as far as page 50, teeth gritted. It was only on my third attempt, when I had absolutely nothing else to read and the idea of reading about snow and ice seemed attractive in the middle of a sweltering hot London, that I finally got going. There is a great deal of mountaineering stuff at first so that it feels like reading a textbook. Also, the scenes seem disjointed, lurching from one set piece to another. But I kept going. Dan Simmons is a good writer, very visual, and by hanging in there (er, on one of those magic ropes, perhaps), I found I couldn’t wait to read the next instalment and then realised, at last, that I was entranced.

Part Two sees our heroes on the foothills (though I use that word cautiously) of Mount Everest. By this time I was hooked on mountaineering. Everything I had “learnt” in the earlier chapters was now part of my vocabulary and I had no trouble following the action, despite not knowing a single thing about climbing very high mountains – except that it seems an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do and you’re quite likely to lose several fingers and toes while you’re about it.

And then suddenly, in Part Three, everything makes sense. All the plot strands that wandered off, all the mountaineering stuff you had to learn, everything you now knew about Everest – these were the puzzle pieces hiding a MUCH bigger story. Because I didn’t see the huge plot twist coming, I’m not even going to BREATHE what it’s about. I LOVED that I knew nothing. I LOVED the surprise – and the shock. The title suddenly makes much more sense too if you get as far as Part Three. The horror is much more subtle than the usual run-of-the-mill visceral horror stuff, which I loathe.

The ending might fall down a bit and be just a tad unbelievable, but it really doesn’t matter after the tremendous excitement on the steep slopes of Everest. I wish I’d had a map, though, of where the climbers were climbing. I would really have like to SEE the immensely difficult climbing they were doing. It says much about the book’s strength that I’m now wildly interested in adventure-type stories and want to rush off and read more. I’m not inspired to climb anything higher than a footstool but that’s not really the point – it’s a revelation to read a genre that I normally wouldn’t touch, considering it boring or boysie. It’s great to be proven wrong. I’m now going to read every Everest biography I can find!

The enclosed picture gives some idea of the climb, through this probably isn’t exactly the same route.

map-everest-north-col

I’ve read another excellent review of this book which describes in detail what it’s about – my review is mostly just an emotional response. You can read it here:

http://www.bevvincent.com/onyx/simmons-abominable.html

 

 

 

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About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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