You never know what you’re going to get with Dan Simmons.
Across his career he’s been endorsed by Stephen King, created vast sci-fi epics and won dozens of awards. With that kind of literary clout, he’s earned the right to explore something more esoteric, and The Abominable bears all the hallmarks of a pet project.
The book’s narrator is Jacob Perry, who as the story kicks off in the mid-Twenties is halfway up the Matterhorn with Richard Deacon, a famous and successful mountaineer. It is here that their party catches wind of the disappearances of Irvine and Mallory, two of Deacon’s former friends and now great rivals, on Mount Everest.
Either galvanised or driven to madness by their deaths, Deacon resolves to scale Everest himself with Perry and their associate Jean-Claude in tow. As they prepare for the expedition, conversation briefly turns to rumours that some sort of monster on the mountain is responsible for the disappearances (hint: clue’s in the title).
Simmons clearly invested a great deal of time in the research – appearing as a foreword is his encounter with a genuine 1920s mountaineer – and no one can blame him for wanting to make use of it. Unfortunately, this bogs down 650-plus pages with background colour that just adds more shades of grey.
Hundreds of pages trickle by agonisingly slowly before the party even begins the Everest expedition, with all of the characters exchanging lengthy, expository speeches about their mysterious pasts. Perry is the worst of all, a dreary, perennial bystander in his own story. With 300 or so pages slashed out, there is enough here to make for an invigorating blend of history and horror.
Instead, Simmons has simply taken the indulgence of his muse a few steps too far.