Excerpt from The Terror by Dan Simmons, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Terror

A Novel

by Dan Simmons

The Terror
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 784 pages
    Dec 2007, 672 pages

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“This isn’t your watch, Lieutenant,” says Crozier, hearing the whip-crack in his voice again.

“Aye, aye, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean, the captain is correct, sir. I mean …” Irving clamps his mouth shut again, but the effect is ruined somewhat by the chattering of his teeth. In this cold, teeth can shatter after two or three hours — actually explode — sending shrapnel of bone and enamel flying inside the cavern of one’s clenched jaws. Sometimes, Crozier knows from experience, you can hear the enamel cracking just before the teeth explode.

“Why are you still out here, John?”

Irving tries to blink, but his eyelids are literally frozen open. “You ordered me to watch over our guest … to look out for … to take care of Silence, Captain.”

Crozier’s sigh emerges as ice crystals that hang in the air for a second and then fall to the deck like so many minuscule diamonds. “I didn’t mean every minute, Lieutenant. I told you to watch her, report to me on what she does, to keep her out of mischief and harm’s way on the ship, and to see that none of the men do anything to … compromise her. Do you think she’s in danger of being compromised out here on deck, Lieutenant?”

“No, Captain.” Irving’s sentence sounds more like a question than an answer.

“Do you know how long it takes for exposed flesh to freeze out here, Lieutenant?”

“No, Captain. I mean, yes, Captain. Rather quickly, sir, I think.”

“You should know, Lieutenant Irving. You’ve had frostbite six times already, and it’s not even officially winter yet.”

Lieutenant Irving nods dolefully.

“It takes less than a minute for an exposed finger or thumb — or any fleshy appendage — to freeze solid,” continues Crozier, who knows that this is a load of horse cobblers. It takes much longer than that at a mere fifty below, but he hopes that Irving doesn’t know this. “After that, the exposed member will snap off like an icicle,” adds Crozier.

“Yes, Captain.”

“So do you really think there’s any chance that our visitor might be … compromised … out here on deck, Mr. Irving?”

Irving seems to be thinking about this before replying. It’s possible, Crozier realizes, that the third lieutenant has put far too much thought into this equation already.

“Go below, John,” says Crozier. “And see Dr. McDonald about your face and fingers. I swear to God that if you’ve gotten seriously frostbitten again, I’ll dock you a month’s Discovery Service pay and write your mother to boot.”

“Yes, Captain. Thank you, sir.” Irving starts to salute again, thinks better of it, and ducks under the canvas toward the main ladderway with one hand still half raised. He does not look back at Silence.

Crozier sighs again. He likes John Irving. The lad had volunteered — along with two of his mates from the HMS Excellent, Second Lieutenant Hodgson and First Mate Hornby — but the Excellent was a damned three-decker that was old before Noah had fuzz around his dongle. The ship had been mastless and permanently moored in Portsmouth, Crozier knew, for more than fifteen years, serving as a training vessel for the Royal Navy’s most promising gunners. Unfortunately, gentlemen, Crozier had told the boys during their first day aboard — the captain had been more than usually drunk that day — if you look around, you’ll notice that while Terror and Erebus were both built as bombardment ships, gentlemen, neither has a single gun between them. We are, young volunteers from Excellent — unless one counts the Marines’ muskets and the shotguns secured in the Spirit Roomas gunless as a newborn babe. As gunless as fucking Adam in his fucking birthday suit. In other words, gentlemen, you gunnery experts are about as useful to this expedition as teats would be on a boar.

Copyright © 2007 by Dan Simmons. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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