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Drood ()

Dickens took a "vacation" trip to France at the end of May 1865. Before leaving he told Forester: "Work and worry...would soon make an end of me. If I were not going away now, I should break down. No one knows as I know to-day how near to it I have been..." But rest was not the only reason for Dickens's departure. He was also going to France to visit Ellen Ternan.

As was usually the case, Dickens continued to write, even while on vacation. While in France he worked on the second chapter of the sixteenth number of Our Mutual Friend (drawing towards the close), and brought the manuscript back to England with him in the pocket of his overcoat. With Ellen Ternan and her mother, he boarded the ferry and travelled from Boulogne to Folkestone. On this occasion a fellow-passenger noticed him and recorded the following observation: "Travelling with him was a lady not his wife, nor his sister-in-law, yet he strutted about the deck with the air of a man bristling with self-importance, every line of his face and every gesture of his limbs seemed haughtily to say -- 'Look at me; make the most of your chance. I am the great, the only Charles Dickens; whatever I may choose to do is justified by that fact.'" Dickens, Ternan, and Mrs. Ternan were booked into a first-class carriage and they took the 2:38 tidal train from Folkestone to London. Passing the town of Headcorn thirty-three minutes later they approached the viaduct over the river Beult just before Staplehurst where the accident would take place. They were travelling at a speed of fifty miles an hour on a downward gradient. At that moment repair work was being conducted on the viaduct itself (which was in fact little more than a bridge) and two of the rails had been lifted from the railbed and placed at the side of the track. The foreman in charge of the construction site had consulted the wrong time-table, and he did not expect Dickens's train for another two hours. Furthermore, and, against regulations, the flagman who was supposed to give warning to oncoming trains of any obstruction was only 550 yards from the construction site. The train conductor saw the red flag and applied his brakes, but it was too late. The train approached the broken line in the rail at a speed of between twenty and thirty miles per hour. It jumped a gap of forty-two feet, and swerved onto the bed of the river below. All of the seven first-class carriages plummeted downwards -- except for one car. That car was the one occupied by Dickens and the Ternans, and it held by its couplings onto a second-class carriage. Dickens's car had come off the rail and was now hanging over the bridge at an angle.

With a makeshift arrangement of planks Dickens managed to extricate the Ternans from the suspended carriage, and as he was doing this, he saw the other first-class carriages lying at the bottom of the river bed. With his familiar aplomb he went returned to the teetering carriage, and took out a travelling flask of brandy as well as his top hat. He filled his hat with water, clambered down the bank, and then began his work among the injured and the dead. He found a man with a cracked skull; he gave the man some brandy, poured a bit of water on his face, and laid him on the grass beside the stream. The man said only "I am gone," and then died. A woman with a blood-covered face was propped against a tree; Dickens gave her a little brandy from his flask, but in a moment she too was dead. The scene was covered with corpses and injured bodies. One young passenger, Mr. Dickenson, later recalled how it was the urging and assistance of Charles Dickens that ultimately helped to free him from a pile of twisted wreckage. Another passenger would later recall how Dickens, with his hat full of water, was "running about with it and doing his best to revive and comfort every poor creature he met who had sustained serious injury."

And then, as he prepared to take leave of the death scene, Dickens did a remarkable thing. Remembering that his manuscript was still in the pocket of his overcoat, he clambered back into the swaying carriage and retrieved it. He then travelled back to London with the other survivors on an emergency train.

-Dickens by Peter Ackroyd

With his first book, Song of Kali, Dan Simmons won the World Fantasy Award. In 1989, he published Carrion Comfort,m which won the Bram Stoker, and Hyperion, which won the Hugo and Locus awards. He followed, in 1992, with Summer of Night, a story of 5 young boys in early 60s Elm Haven, IL, that invoked the spirit of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked. In short order he'd triumphed in the fields of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. He's subsequently written excellent entries in the field of noir -- Hard as Nails -- the spy thriller -- The Crook Factory -- and historical fiction -- The Terror. I've been proselytizing for him--giving his books to friends and family--for twenty years now and I don't just think he's a terrific author but one who's earned some leeway from fans to experiment because so many of his past endeavors have succeeded. So while his latest, Drood, has some weaknesses, I'm willing to look past them and be thankful for the stuff he gets right here.

Drood takes as its starting point the factual Staplehurst Disaster of June 9, 1865, as described above. Simmons imagines that in the midst of the wreckage Dickens encounters a mysterious character named Drood, who appears to be murdering survivors of the crash even as Dickens is trying to save them. Drood becomes an obsession for the famed author who hunts him for the next 5 years, even into the city sewers, with the assistance of rival and collaborator Wilkie Collins and some help from a London detective.

In essence, Drood takes on the quality of Moriarity to Dickens's Holmes or Fu Manchu to his Nayland Smith. The book gets this trope down pat and an author as skilled as Dan Simmons can't help but put the atmospherics of Victorian England to good use. Here his dark fantasy background comes in handy and gives the whole a spooky patina.

But the narrator of the novel is Collins, who isn't just jealous of Dickens's success but is an abuser of laudnum to the point that he imagines his own doppelganger. While he provides a distinctive voice to the proceedings and a deliciously snarky take on the iconic Dickens, it also takes the device of the unreliable narrator to an extreme. And it will take a reader even more indulgent of Mr. Simmons than I not to be at least somewhat annoyed when 700 pages into the book the narrator is suggesting the whole story may just be a product of narcotic hallucinations.

Indeed, the length of what is really an old-fashioned pulp fiction is problematic. We can understand Mr. Simmons's desire to fit what was obviously extensive research into the final text, but a decent editor wouldn't have hurt a bit. That said. the pages do fly by and far better an overlong good book than any bad one. This isn't the Simmons novel you should start with if he's new to you, but it's one his fans will definitely want to read and anyone will enjoy.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Dan Simmons Links:

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dan Simmons (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Dan Simmons
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Dan Simmons (Harper Collins)
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Terror by Dan Simmons
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Hyperion by Dan Simmons
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A: Dan Simmons, author of "Drood" (Mary Ann Gwinn, 2/15/09, Seattle Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Dan Simmons: A chilling local author heats up the Victorian Era (Cat Rambo, February 15, 2009, Denver Decider)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Dan Simmons (Interview by Steven H Silver, July 2003, SF Site)
    -INTERVIEW: World-class maker of worlds: A talk with Dan Simmons: "What interests me is that human beings are almost always corrupted by the control they wield over other human beings." (Interview by Michael Alec Rose, August 1997, BookPage)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Dan Simmons (Claire E. White, September 2001, Writers Write)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: for Drood by Dan Simmons (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Drood by Dan Simmons (Marjorie Kehe, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Veronique de Turenne B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (John Sutherland, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (John J. Miller, WSJ)
In the postscript to his novel "Our Mutual Friend," Charles Dickens briefly described a railway accident that almost killed him: "I can never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever, than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book: THE END."

Dickens, in fact, never again put those two words at the close of a book. He died in 1870, exactly five years after the Staplehurst crash -- and when he was only halfway through "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

For authors, passing away while writing books is an occupational hazard. Generations of students are probably grateful that Geoffrey Chaucer didn't get around to composing all of the stories he had planned for "The Canterbury Tales." Virgil's "Aeneid" is another classic case of incompleteness.

Other unfinished works aren't as well known, such as "Sanditon," "Weir of Hermiston" and "The Last Tycoon." If Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson and F. Scott Fitzgerald had lived a little longer, these fragments of their imaginations might have become as familiar as "Pride and Prejudice," "Treasure Island" and "The Great Gatsby."

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood," however, stands apart. It's no "Bleak House" or "Great Expectations," but it nevertheless has held a curious grip on certain readers. Ever since "Drood" was published shortly after Dickens's death, people have puzzled over how it might have ended -- and specifically whether the character of Edwin Drood was murdered and who might have killed him. Critics have clashed over the clues. Scholars have scoured archives for hints. Novelists have tried to knock off the manuscript on their own.

    -REVIEW: of Drood (Nick Owchar, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Michael Berry, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Diane Juravich, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (James Reese, St. Petersburg Times)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Christopher Guerin, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (DJ Taylor, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Louis Bayard, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Ray Palen, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Dorman T. Shindler, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (ROBERT CREMINS, The Dallas Morning News )
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Michael Alec Rose, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Curt Holman, Creative Loafing)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Maureen Corrigan, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Steve Giegerich, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Mark Graham, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Dean Haigh, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (SCOTT EYMAN, Palm Beach Post)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Paul Constant, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Jake Kerridge, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Drood (Bob Hussey, Rain Taxi)
    -REVIEW: of Ilium by Dan Simmons (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Worlds Enoiugh & Time by Dan Simmons (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Endymion by Dan Simmons (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons (Gerald Jonas, NY Times Book Review)
Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons make up a single thousand-page novel about the last days of a vibrant yet self-destructive galactic civilization called the Hegemony. If the Hegemony is doomed, it is because, in exchange for the knowledge needed to conquer the stars, the human species has sold its soul to a hive of machine-based intelligences known as the Technocore. If there is any hope for human redemption, it is to be found on the planet Hyperion.

This Earth-like world is the home of the Time Tombs, monumental artifacts of indeterminate origin that are somehow linked to the enigma of the Shrike, a half-organic, half-mechanical creature also known (for good reason) as the Lord of Pain. Where the Shrike comes from, why it inspires both terror and devotion and what it does with its victims are only some of the mysteries that Mr. Simmons lays bare in his generously conceived and stylistically sure-handed books.

At the heart of the story is a pilgrimage to Hyperion by seven people who have suffered greatly and who seek different kinds of fulfillment in a face-to-face confrontation with the Shrike. The moment is hardly auspicious for personal salvation. The Hegemony is at war with the Ousters, descendants of space-faring humans who make their home in idiosyncratic constructions between the stars. The computer-born A.I.'s (artificial intelligences) of the Technocore, having slipped humanity's rein, pursue their own obscure ends while ostensibly supporting the Hegemony.

Mr. Simmons shuttles his characters through space and time with the enviable freedom that modern science fiction accords the untimid storyteller.

    -REVIEW: of Hyperion Cantos (Sandstorm Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Hyperion Cantos (Gary Couzzens, InfinityPlus)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: The Terror by Dan Simmons (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror by Dan Simmons (Terrence Rafferty, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (David Maisel, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (John Clute, SciFi Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Matt Crenson, The Associated Press)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Michael Lee, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror ()
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Sandy Amazeen, Monsters & Critics)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Adam Roberts, Strange Horizons)
    -REVIEW: of The Terror (Nisi Shawl, The Seattle Times)

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