Conquering Dan Simmons commitment issues

Being a Dan Simmon’s reader and fan takes a lot of commitment, but I must tell you, Dear Reader (pun intended) that it is certainly worth the commitment.

Having just tackled the 766 page behemouth that is The Terror and then immediately diving headlong into the 771 page door stop that is Drood, Simmon’s latest, I’ll admit that I did question my sanity. There are lots of quick little reads staring at my from my reading pile (not to mention writing of my own); was I truly committed enough to this author to spend that kind of time on his disparate works?

In a word, yes.

Mr. Simmon’s efforts do require a high level of commitment, for the following reasons:

  • They are long (as noted above), with the exception of obviously his short story collections, and the ‘pot-boiler detective novels’ (such as Hardcase); yet the pacing is such that, especially in novels such as the Illium/Olympos duology, they read very quickly…unless you get bogged down in the science or literary references.
  • The plot lines are usually quite complex; Illium talks about brane holes and quantum reality, and adds in the Greek/Trojan war, post-humans as Olympic Gods, and asteroid mining moravec AI’s. The Terror, while fairly singular in plot (ships caught in the ice, men trying to survive) throws in the complexities of personalities, weather, myth and history. But, for the most part, all of these contribute to the ultimate end of the story.
  • The books bounce from genre to genre; Simmon’s books defy classification, which frankly is okay with most readers (who just want a good book) and unsettling for marketeers (who want to classify things to death).
  • They are replete with literary references; Mr. Simmons has an English degree and worked for a long while as a teacher, so one would assume that these references are second nature to him. While having AI moravec asteroid miners discuss the finer points of Shakespeare will certainly throw some readers, it actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the story (the AI’s want to understand humans, what better way than through their lit?)
  • His stories don’t always tell you everything at the end. This is fine by me, I am certainly open to finishing the story in my own head.

Simmon’s also provides nice ‘Easter Eggs’, linking one story to the next (for example, Drood early on discusses a play written by Dickens and Collins concerning the Franklin expedition that is the center of The Terror, which also mentions Dickens at the end).

Simmon’s stories provide entertainment and intellectual stimulation…isn’t that what reading is all about? Visit his web site, he also has an excellent set of articles called Writing Well which discuss the art of storytelling from the point of view of a successful genre-hopping story teller.

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