The HMS Terror and HMS Erebus left port in England in 1845, crewed by sailors and explorers fully expecting to find the fabled Northwest Passage. They sailed west, making stops in Greenland and Baffin Bay, until they reached northern Canada. Then, somewhere around Devon Island, all trace of them was lost. The ships vanished into the pack ice; no one has ever known the truth of what became of them. In The Terror, Dan Simmons retells the factual voyage and surmises the terrifying last leg of the journey. The explorers had an experienced commander, two strong ships, the hopes of their countrymen on their shoulders, and fabulously promising food stores made possible by the recent invention of canning.

But everything went wrong almost immediately. Captain Franklin meets a grisly end early on. The ships quickly become useless when pack ice surrounds them and threatens to crush them into splinters. The grip of scurvy, starvation, and madness sink into almost all the crew. As if these natural terrors weren’t enough, a faceless, hungry, menacing terror is stalking them as they flee south across the ice.

This is a beefy book but definitely worth the effort. Simmons does a fantastic job of weaving truth with fiction; he makes the historical facts of the trip exciting and the conjecture completely compelling and believable. The science fiction-y elements of this book are subtle and scary, but the real terror comes from the natural world: an Arctic winter so frigid and unforgiving that it makes a Midwestern winter look tropical by comparison! This thrilling book is an excellent choice for anyone who likes adventure or historical fiction.

On any hot, humid August day, what better way to cool down than by reading about cold? Real, icy 40-below cold.  Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places may send shivers down your spine as it easily entertains and educates about all aspects of this little four-letter word.  Author Bill Streever uses a loosely organized style — almost blog-like — to share all sorts of trivia, including stories from doomed Arctic expeditions as well as amusing anecdotes and easily understandable scientific explanations. Whether you’re curious about seals or snowflakes, igloos or icebergs, hibernation or helium, you’ll likely discover some new tibdit of information with which you can regale your friends. 

To give just one example of these rather obscure tidbits, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written in 1816, in what was known as the “Year Without Summer.”  She and other guests were staying at Lord Byron’s Geneva retreat, but the weather was so bad, the guests were forced to stay indoors, so Lord Byron challenged them all to come up with ghost stories.  Her novel, published two years later, actually starts with letters from an Arctic explorer and ends with the creature drifting away on an Arctic ice floe. 

Each chapter in Cold is a different month of the year, each with its own location and corresponding temperature.  July is the opening chapter, with a temperature of 51 degrees, as he describes his five-minute experience in the 35-degree water of Prudhoe Bay, located 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  September finds him climbing Scotland’s highest peak, and January finds him back in Anchorage, where he lives and serves as the chair of the North Slope Science Initiative’s Science Technical Advisory Panel.  For people like me, who most likely will never get to the Arctic Circle, this book provides an insight — and yes, even an appreciation of — all things cold.