BOOK: The Abominable by Dan Simmons (2013)

abominableLet me begin this review by telling you how big a fan I am of Dan Simmons.  I AM A HUGE FAN OF DAN SIMMONS! It all began about eleven years ago, when my husband and I went on a trip to Victoria, BC, and I could barely get him out of the hotel room because he was completely engrossed in Simmons’s Song of Kali  and couldn’t bring himself to put it down.

As soon as he finished, I, naturally, picked it right up — clearly, if he was ignoring ME for a BOOK, it had to be the Greatest Story of All Time And That’s Including All the Time Back When We Didn’t Even Have Stories We Just Had, Like, Whatever It Is Monkeys Have In Their Heads.  How else to explain this maddening neglect?

Twenty minutes after I picked it up, it all made sense.  Greatest Book of All Time?  No, but I’d put it right up there in the Top Ten Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read, which is not worth nuthin’.

Since then, I’ve read many of Simmons’ other novels — more the horror than the sci-fi (though I will hit the sci-fi stuff at some point).  And to be honest, they’ve been pretty hit or miss for me — I loved The Terror, for example (oh man, did I ever), but found Black Hills pretty goofball (oh man, did I ever).

When I saw the title of this one — Abominable — along with a one sentence description that said it was about the earliest attempts to scale Mt. Everest (you know, smack-dab in Yeti territory?), I was expecting something quite different from what I got, and I still haven’t decided how I feel about that.  It’s clear Simmons gave it the title he did because he wanted us to think this story would be going in the Abominable Snowman direction — no doubt about it. Not only does the story mention more than once rumors of Yeti attacks, but in the introduction’s conceit, the “real” Dan Simmons describes being contacted by the now-elderly protagonist of this tale because after reading The Terror, he knew Simmons was the perfect writer to tell his own story too.

But then . . . no.  Nothing along those lines happens.  It’s something else that is “abominable,” and, frankly, that thing was also pretty lame.  It might’ve worked better for me had the seed of the background for it been planted and allowed to sprout earlier on in the novel (and it could have been, which was the maddening part).  But instead, almost all of the “abominable”-related action happens in the last fifty pages of this incredibly lengthy tome, and on the way, what you get is one of the most obsessively detailed descriptions of mountain climbing techniques and gear I have ever read — and people?  I READ NON-FICTION BOOKS ABOUT MOUNTAIN CLIMBING ALL THE TIME!

The tale, set in the 1920s, is narrated by a young American named Jake (the elderly man in the intro), who, as his story begins, has just become climbing buddies with two expert mountain men, “the Deacon” (British) and a French guy named Jacques (aren’t all French guys named Jacques?).

Relaxing after completing their first major climb together, the men discover that George Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irving, have just died attempting to be the first human beings to summit Mt. Everest.  After the shock wears off — the climbing world was a small one then, and the Deacon had climbed with Mallory before — it quickly turns to hunger. Hunger to give it a shot themselves.  To be the first themselves. Good God, mountain climbers are a crazy bunch (that’s why I love reading books about them). Your buddies freeze to death and your second thought after, “Rats!” is “My turn!”?

One monkey wrench in their monkey plan — to climb a mountain like Chomalungma, you need a lotta money, and our three intrepid heroes are not exactly rich.  Or even inexactly rich. By which I mean: they are effectively broke.

Lucky for them (“Rats. My turn!”), there was another group of climbers who died on the mountain around the same time as Mallory, and one of them is the son of a royal family. His extremely wealthy mother has refused to accept that her son is truly dead, so naturally, the Deacon turns on the charm and easily convinces her to fund their expedition by promising to find out the truth about where her boy ended up.

And so they’re off!

Annnnnnd — then there’s about 550 pages of minutiae about every. single. detail. of their trip to and up the mountain.  While this trek and climb are going on, pretty much nothing else is going on — just so you know.  Even as a person who loves reading books about mountain climbing and about history and about mountain climbing history, I confess I started to burn out about 400 pages in.  BUT, I stuck with it and when I finally got to the last section, I got a little bit excited when I discovered it was titled “Abominable.”  Finally, the payoff for all those many, many paragraphs about ice axe design!

And then . . .


I won’t say more than that — if you’re going to read it, you might as well read it pure.  Suffice it to say it made very, very little sense to me, and was a tremendous let-down after all the work it took to get there.

You know how those inflatable giant Santa Claus lawn decorations look when you turn off the air pump?  I could relate.

NOW.  Listen up.  If you like books about mountain climbing, you’ll probably like huge swaths of this novel — I did myself –and you should at least pick it up and see how far it takes you.  Think of it as a book about mountain climbing history and not as anything else, and you might really, really enjoy it.

Just don’t go in expecting The Terror reset to Mt. Everest — a mistake I made largely because Simmons wanted me to.  I still haven’t decided how annoyed to be by that little game — it certainly seemed intentional, to the point where he made sure it came totally out of left field at the end so as not to spoil the “Syke!” effect. And yet, for fans of Dan Simmons novels, how is the actual end, then, going to be anything but disappointing?  (Not to mention silly — did I mention silly?  Because it’s silly.  Did I say it was silly?  WELL, IT IS.  IT IS SILLY.)

Nevertheless, I am still a huge Dan Simmons fan, though I’m increasingly starting to think I’d be an even huger one if he’d let someone edit his novels for him.  And though I’m not likely to read it again any time soon, I’ll never get rid of my copy of The Abominable because a friend got it autographed for me!  And not only did Simmons sign it, he drew me a little mountain climber — adorbs!

Patiently waiting to see what he does next, and not sorry I read this one at all, though if you’re planning to pick it up yourself, I suggest you just read the first 50 pages and the last 50 pages and skip all the innards. Unless you are SOOOOPER into 1920s oxygen bottle design.


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4 Responses to “BOOK: The Abominable by Dan Simmons (2013)”

  1. RogerBW Says:


    I’ve read his SF, didn’t know about the horror. Will look up some of the horror that isn’t this one. 🙂

  2. 80s Ted Danson Says:


    I completely agree with your review! I had had hopes that grinding through so much detail about crampons etc. would be rewarded as the book approached a satisfying and intriguing conclusion.

    Instead I am left scratching my head as to why someone fleeing a small number of Nazis across the globe would end up having to try their luck ascending Everest as a getaway plan.

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