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Dan Simmons ‘The Abominable’ Review


Written by: James Keen

“We have absolutely no concept of what lies ahead for us.” -The Abominable.

Dan Simmons returns to frozen climes again after his novel, ‘The Terror’, but the difference this time around is that this book is one that is much less concerned with the supernatural and more in exploring themes of obsession, betrayal and the often appalling nature of self-discovery.

Simmons opens the novel with an introduction that is not extraneous to the pages that follow, as so often such prefaces can prove to be. Told from the writer’s ‘experience’ meeting a dying old man in preparation for constructing an entirely different book, Simmons describes a set of circumstances that immediately begin blending the fictional with the factual. The author talks about his own initial doubts regarding the veracity of the retired climbers tale, but when he later receives a set of notebooks written by this Jacob Perry, long after his death, we are invited to take a literary ‘leap of faith’ and indulge in what is presented to the reader as the journals of a young American recounting his experience in the mid 1920’s of a perilous expedition to summit Mount Everest.

Using this ‘found journal’ narrative device, Simmons is able to craft a tale that distils a terrifying journey that is itself awash with technical detail, religious history and, certainly towards the close of the novel, a good portion of sanguinary violence. Simmons/Perry posit a story that, much like Simmons’ earlier work – specifically his novel ‘The Crook Factory’ – takes a great many liberties with historical fact shot through with a suspense dynamic that is, as always with Simmons, confident and assured. Equipment preparation, the dangers of injury, whether it be from opthalmia, frostbite or altitude sickness (“mountain lassitude”) are mixed in with the apparently meditative qualities of climbing, group paranoia and Tibetan-centric superstition.

The problems with Simmons’ narrative are that often the text is over-saturated with the technical side of climbing – there’s a great deal of mechanical minutia here; everything from the improvement of crampon boots, the developments in ice-axe technology, pitons, ascending grapples, ropes, goggles, oxygen tanks, clothing, heating implements and so on. The reader may very well feel that after finishing this they’d be quite au fait with the early Twentieth Century history of mountain climbing, which is no bad thing in itself, but it does become mildly wearying in places. Also, there’s the matter of exposition on the part of the author, which in places comes across as bizarrely clunky and artificial. There’s an event quite early on in this lengthy tome where a climbing test of sorts is set for Perry and his young French comrade, Jean Claude, that is so obvious in its foreshadowing of what will occur later in the book that it appears calculated and predictably elliptical.

Very much like the central narrative theme of the novel, this is a reading experience that approximates the idea of a long mountain trek as it’s really only in the last third of the book that Simmons flair for suspense really kicks in. Subsequently the pages fly by as the author summits his own admirably literary endeavour and gives the reader a shocking coda to ‘The Abominable’ that is perhaps not quite what the reader may be expecting.

This is a marvelous work of fiction from a writer who consistently delivers profound and intriguing works of fiction, but for those looking for a rather predictable scenario involving possibly supernatural elements they may feel somewhat short-changed here. The horrors here are far more insidious and thought-provoking than legendary mountain-dwelling creatures. A engagingly quixotic author whose work often incorporates disparate genres, he’s fashioned a splendidly riveting tale here that’s deeply affecting, beautifully written and diverting in the very best sense of the word.

Order it here.

Rating: 4.5/5


About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

13 Comments on Dan Simmons ‘The Abominable’ Review

  1. Wayne C. Rogers // November 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm // Reply

    James, you beat me to it. I’m at the part when Perry and Jean Claude are being tested in Wales. What? No abominable snowman! The ending better be damn good then because I was expecting a creature worse than the one in The Terror. After all, the novel is titled, The Abominable. Great review, my man.


    • Hi Wayne, thanks for the kind words. I can’t say much more about ‘The Abominable’ – I’ve had to be more than a little oblique in my review so as not to spoil the book, but I still think you’re in for a treat here, my friend. It’s just not the book I think many people were probably expecting, given the title and the obvious thematic comparisons that might have been made with ‘The Terror’. This is an entirely different literary ‘animal’, and because of that I debated whether I should submit this review to HNR. That said, for my money, this is an unforgettable piece of fiction and one I look forward to re-reading someday. I think you’ll like it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this when you’ve finished it.


  2. Simmons is pretty amazing. This is now on my official to-read list.


  3. Wayne C. Rogers // November 5, 2013 at 12:56 am // Reply

    James, I’m reading about a 100 pages a week, which is slow, especially when you consider how long the book is. I will say that I purchased this novel because of the title and the references to The Terror. Now, I don’t know what to think. I will continue to read the book and see how the ending turns out. I had this problem with Drood. Though the book was titled Drood, only forty pages out of several hundred actually dealt with Drood. Though I loved the scenes with Drood in them (the horror scenes), I grew tried of Collins whining and complaining about Dickens after about 400 pages. I hope The Abominable has a better ending than Drood did.


    • jameskeen89450 // November 5, 2013 at 11:43 am // Reply

      Hi Wayne; I don’t think this is a book you should rush. The interplay between Jean- Claude, Jake, ‘Ree-shard’ and Reggie is nicely done, in my opinion, but the sheer detail Simmons has thrown here may have you ‘googling’ just to double-check some of the ‘facts’. I studied the rise of the Weimar Republic quite extensively at Uni and there’s some stuff in here that I had no clue about. Along with the mythology surrounding the mountain, the Sky Burial, and the way the Sherpas were treated at the time, all of it I found a fascinating eye-opener. There is an element of the supernatural here, but it’s extremely subtle.
      I’ve not read ‘Drood’, but my experience reading this guy’s work has always been a rewarding one. My contention is and always has been, if you can be entertained and educated to some extent by any book then it’s not just been a simple indulgent exercise in passing a day or two of your time. Just my two pfennigs…heh-heh…


  4. I really recommend Mike Miller’s “The Yeti” instead for a similar but superior story. I read someone else describe it as “‘King Solomon’s Mines’ meets HP Lovecraft,” with which I agree.

    Dan Simmons’ “The Abominable” is in many ways a far weaker version of his” The Terror,” which I actually did enjoy. Both are epic, historical adventures involving frozen climates and the supernatural. However, this version of the same story takes all the worst qualities of “The Terror” to the extreme: long-winded exposition, slow start (over 200 pages before they even get to the mountain,) sporadic suspense in the sake of local color and history and confusing, out-of-the-blue ending. This one’s for diehards only, or those in love with early 20th century mountain-climbing, of which there’s far more than any monster.

    Again, I say check out Mike Miller’s “The Yeti” instead for a more enjoyable and fun read about treasure-hunting soldiers battling the famous monster.


  5. Wayne C. Rogers // November 7, 2013 at 1:05 am // Reply

    I’m at the 160 page mark where Deacon and Perry and J.C. are questioning Finch, talking about having seen the footprints of a Yeti on Mt. Everest. As it stands right now, even with what I know about the rest of the novel, I’m enjoying it. I’ve read a lot of Dan’s books over the years. The only one I’ve ever been angry about is Drood because I felt the reader was misled by the title and what the book was about. Also, the ending was a cop out. If you read the novel, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I hope The Abominable doesn’t turn out that way. I might check out Miller’s novel. I’ve seen it on Amazon.


    • jameskeen89450 // November 7, 2013 at 7:18 am // Reply

      I envy you, Wayne, because, obviously I thought this was a blast. Will check out ‘Drood’ -I’ve got it in hardback somewhere. I know the film-maker Guillermo del Toro was hankering to do a movie version a few years back, but then that guy seems to have twenty movies on the go at any one time
      On the Miller tip -I’d check out the sample at Amazon if I were you before buying; I wasn’t aware it was possible to summit Everest on horseback (my arse!)and the two illustrations there look like they were drawn by a sixth grader…Caveat Emptor, my friend…


  6. Wayne C. Rogers // November 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm // Reply

    James, it’s impossible to summit Mt. Everest on a horse or pony. You can go up to the first base camp with them and maybe the second, but from that point on you have to travel by foot with the Sherpas carrying the majority of the supplies. I think The Yeti by Miller was self published. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t good…only that the writer had to publish it himself. Getting a book published by a major publishing company in New York or even a well-known independent publisher is a lot like trying to get an agent in Hollywood. It’s not impossible, but the odds are tough.


    • jameskeen89450 // November 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm // Reply

      Yep, therefore the snarky ‘my arse!’ comment. You tell Mr. Miller. Heh-heh… You should read that sample before you think about buying it; it’s fairly lengthy and it’ll give you a good idea, alright. Put me off- and those ‘illustrations’ – hoo boy!


  7. Bon ba ce poste va atterrir sur mon site


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