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Dan Simmons
The Abominable
Little, Brown / Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-19883-7
Publication Date: 10-22-2013
646 Pages; $29.00
Date Reviewed: 11-09-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013
Index:  General Fiction  Horror  Fantasy  Science Fiction

Adventure is an easy word to bandy about. And while adventure has the connotations of big things happening to important people, of being simplistic and bombastic, it's really far more complex and subtle than most people might imagine. Adventure is not about plot or action, or even thrills, though any or all of those might be an element of action. Action is about momentum, a combination of impulsion and propulsion, of control and chaos, where intention collides with the unexpected.

Dan Simmons' 'The Abominable' is a work of top-notch adventure, an immersive journey of characters who are bigger than life but have the ring of truth through landscapes both natural and very human that have the capability of killing them without a qualm. Simmons writes in a variety of styles; stripped down, hard-boiled mysteries, lush horror-novel sagas, epic science fiction series that are thankfully limited in length but not in scope, page-turning-thrillers, and detailed, immersive historical adventures that combine a dash of Dickens and a hearty helping of Hemingway.

'The Abominable' is Dan Simmons in the latter mode, as he creates an early, unrecorded attempt to summit Everest, in the year following Mallory's tragic failure. At 646 pages, it reads like a book half its length, but it is full of the stuff of life, intense and vital. The plot is quite straightforward, as befits an adventure. Simmons puts himself in the action in a wrapper that is both funny and poignant, as he and his readers meet a 92 year-old Jake Perry, finally ready to tell his story. It's not complicated. Back in 1924, Perry was recruited for an attempt to find a body on Everest; the expedition intends to summit the mountain while they are searching. Everything proves to be a bit more complicated than advertised.

Readers who want to summit 'The Abominable' may need a nice warm place to read and steady supply of food and drink. Simmons takes is time with characters, giving each of the three main climbers, Jake, Jean Claude ("JC") and "the Deacon" and eventually the fourth (Reggie Bromley), richly crafted back-stories that have all the depth and scope required to give them the momentum to make the ascent. None are perfect; each is a bit broken in one way or another, which make them settle more firmly in our reading hearts. But a book of this size gives Simmons just enough time to linger on all the other ancillary characters and bring them to fully-realized life. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of attending a rather large party to celebrate and eulogize the aftermath of an expedition from which return is unlikely.

Given the size of the book in question, the most important part of the operation may be the pieces of prose that put it together, and here Simmons plays it smart. There are lots of wonderful, evocative descriptions of every bit of landscape you can imagine here, and they do the trick and seem beautiful without ever pointing to their own beauty. 'The Abominable' is a pleasure to read, with nice pacing and cutting between dialogue and description so that we never overload on one of the other. Mostly, we just disappear into the narrative.

It's in the story, the indefinable way we put it together in our minds that 'The Abominable' is transformed from conversation and action and thrills and the pleasures of historical recognition (some very nicely-done Germany before WWII set-pieces, for example) into something more than a story about climbing Everest and what the characters find. Simmons uses his form, the density of description and complexity of character to seed for the reader an investment in what happens. He creates not just plot tension, but the momentum of true adventure, the feeling of being caught up and somehow at the same time, controlling a chaotic advance into the unknown.

Our supposed understanding of everything on the planet is often considered a cure for curiosity. It's generally thought that once we know something, we can't be surprised by it. but that's simply not the case. Adventure can be created anytime; it's a state of mind, not the result of novelty. 'The Abominable' is the perfect demonstration that we can know everything and still be surprised by life, and in that surprise, the shock of the new, we can find adventure.

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