The Abominable (book, Dan Simmons, 2013)

I was sent the Abominable to review for SFX, only to discover that this is one of Simmon’s “straight” books – not that there’s anything wrong with that, naturally, but it means my planned review will not be appearing there (also, we cannot blame the reviews editor, good Ian Berriman for being mistaken. It was sent to him in the first place, much of Simmons’ work is SFnal, and the press release made big mentions of Stephen King’s work, Lost and The Returned). I spent much of my reading going “Aha! The Yetis are about to attack…” And they didn’t. As it’d be a shame to waste all that reading time, shot through as it was with review-oriented thinks, here’s a brief summation of my opinions.

I love Simmons’ work. Three of his novels – Hyperion, The Terror and Drood are among my favourites. I’m particularly impressed by his attention to detail; his ability to work large amounts of technical knowledge into a story is awe-inspiring.  When I grow up, I would like to be a bit like Dan Simmons.

This story – an almost Boys’ Own-style secret expedition to Everest, delivered to the reader by that venerable device of the “found book” – features characters who are so manly, so possessed of stiff upper lips, so clever and driven that I felt like a hollow fraud of a man once I’d completed my reading. However, I felt that the tracts on mountaineering technique, and – especially – his detailing of the British class system circa 1925 went on much too long. At these moments, the characters ceased to be admirable titans of a lost society and became didactic mouthpieces for Simmons’ research.

This happens often in Simmons’ work, it’s part of his authorial thing, but although he usually gets away with it, the balance between detail and story wasn’t quite right here for me. Overall, the book is very strong on detail, prose styling and atmosphere, but the narrative is not quite compelling enough to push one on through the books (admittedly edifying) longeurs.


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