I first stumbled across Dan Simmons’ writing around 1990. The book was a science fiction delight called “Hyperion”. It was a science fiction epic, a Canterbury Tales for space and time travel. Since then I have frequently indulged myself in his novels. As an author he leans towards the fantastic, whether it be in science fiction or horror. And be warned, they are not light weight.
“The Abominable” held certain expectations. Certainly the cover suggests Everest, and I was not disappointed. I guess Everest has been a fascination for me ever since reading “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson. The title also evokes Yeti, those folkloric beasts of the region. “Perhaps this will be like The Terror“, I pondered. “History and horror intertwined.” By the way, if you have not read The Terror then do so. It is a story about Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Arctic in the mid-nineteenth century to find the fabled Northwest Passage. But no, there was not the horror that I suspected.
The book that I most want to compare it to is Moby Dick, except that I have never read that great novel. But I have read a lot of reviews of Melville’s classic and one thing stands out: it contains an awful lot of details about whaling. One reviewer even called it something along the lines of a whaling manual with a story attached. Now I cannot say whether that is true or not, but Simmons’ “The Abominable” certainly came across to me as a mountain climbing manual with a story attached.
Does that mean that I hated it? Or disliked it? Or tossed it away mumbling about wasted money?
No! No! Definitely no!
Set in 1924, the novel explores the lure of Everest and in doing so thoroughly examines climbing technology, techniques and philosophy. Somehow Simmons manages to turn some awfully dry stuff into a fascinating glimpse of a different world. Characters journey through a bitter post-WW1 Europe, visit the Weimar Republic, India and then Everest itself. The story line is basically three chaps using the death of a wealthy house’s son on Everest as an excuse to extract money to bring the body home (and also be the first to climb Everest while they happen to be in the neighbourhood). However there are complications that made me expect Indiana Jones to appear at any moment. Nothing supernatural though.
What was it like reading it?
Dense. So dense. Lots of technical terms. Intense descriptions. It’s a thick book and every word needs reading.
This said, it was well worth it.
I can honestly imagine that in a hundred years or so, this novel will be considered a literary classic that demands reading. The name “Dan Simmons” will be up there with Dickens, the Brontes and so on. So gird your reading loins (if such exist) and read it!