Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book Review: The Abominable

Dan Simmons is a well regarded science fiction, horror and historical fiction author. Indeed, I have read several of his novels and have recommended them to dozens of people. In the science fiction realm, the Hyperion Cantos stands out as one of the best series' of novels that I've ever read (and I'm a voracious reader). I was also enthralled by Simmons' Illium/Olympos series... Both sets of novels are deeply intelligent, wildly imaginative and utterly gripping.

In addition to his science fiction work, Simmons has written several pieces of historical fiction, each of which have some kind of fantastical element. These include works like Drood, a piece about the last five years of the life of Charles Dickens; and The Terror, a piece about a lost expedition to Arctic in the 1840s.

The Terror, which was adapted into a 10-episode miniseries on AMC, is a book that many of this blog's readers might find interesting as well. The novel tells the story of two lost ships at a time when the North Pole was an unexplored frozen seascape. The ships become entrapped in the ice and story quickly becomes a survival narrative with fantastical overtures.

But we're not here to talk about The Terror. Instead, we're here to review The Abominable, a fantastic work of historical fiction that includes a secret expedition to Mt. Everest in the 1920s, spies, Nazis, and even yetis. The book offers the reader a wild ride through not just an action-packed tale, but also through pre-war mountaineering history.

The Abominable tells the story of Jacob Perry, a 23-year-old American climber that gets tagged to join a secret expedition to Mt. Everest, a year after Mallory and Irvine disappear. Perry joins two of his partners, plus a wealthy benefactor and an Indian doctor to investigate the disappearance of a third individual on the mountain. The third climber's disappearance is a much greater mystery than that of Mallory or Irvine, as he wasn't supposed to be on the mountain in the first place, and may have been carrying a document that would have a profound impact on the fledgling Nazi party in Germany.

In many ways, The Abominable is the book that I had been waiting for for several years without realizing it. I have read a lot of mountaineering non-fiction, and a suprisingly large amount of mountaineering fiction. The non-fiction is as good as its author, as is the fiction. The problem is that mountaineering fiction tends to be...well, to put it mildly...pretty bad. The authors seldom know what they're talking about. The mountain becomes -- yeah, you guessed it -- a metaphor for something.

Dan Simmons knows what he's talking about. He has meticulously researched, not just Everest, or climbing and mountaineering history, but climbing and expeditionary technique. The book is supposed to be a transcription of hand written journals made by Perry. For most writers this would be no small task, but Simmons effortlessly builds a level of detail that makes it feel right. The tale is engrossing and could have easily really been written by an early twentieth century expeditionary climber.

The mountaineering history, as well as the climbing and expeditionary details, don't sit well with all readers. In a quick survey of other reviews, many readers really disliked the level of detail in the story. Ironically, this is exactly the type of dish that most Alpine Institute blog readers might find the most delicious...

The Abominable is an awesome tale that takes us not only to the limits of human endurance on Mt. Everest, but deep into a international mystery. Full of history and adventure, it is a novel that is not to be missed!

--Jason D. Martin

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