Featured Author: Dan Simmons – Cross-Genre Master
Dan Simmons has been a published novelist since 1985. His first novel, Song of Kali, went on to win the World Fantasy Award in 1986. It was the first of many, many awards. In his early years, Simmons was – fairly – compared to Stephen King. His novel Summer of Night (published in 1991), in which a group of children wage war against a great evil that lives in their school, is strongly reminiscent of King’s early work. There was the small town, the horror, and, of course, the young protagonists.
As complimentary as such a comparison is, Simmons soon established his own identity, branching out into several genres – often in the same novel. He now writes science-fiction, fantasy, horror, historical fiction, and crime. And he does them all well.
Simmons is not only a master of fiction; he’s also a master of education. Literally. He has a Master’s in Education from Washing University and put it good use for 18 years. He writes extensively about his experiences, especially his work with APEX, a programme for gifted children, in the preface to Carrion Comfort. It makes for fascinating reading. It’s no wonder that the Colorado Education Association presented him with several awards for his contribution to the industry.
Even though he’s been a full-time writer for over 20 years, he still indulges his inner teacher by contributing to various college writing classes and programs, and by hosting workshops.
On a personal note
My first Dan Simmons experience was Summer of Night. I was immediately struck by the Stephen King-ness of the children, which is possibly one of the main reasons why I enjoyed it as much as I did. The children are written with sensitivity and insight, and not one iota of condescension or a single false note. He also captures the period – 1960 – beautifully. At least it seems that way to someone who was only born in 1980.
I enjoyed Summer of Night so much that I bought another two Simmons books: The Terror and Carrion Comfort.
The Terror is fantastic. It’s an historical fictional horror about an expedition to the Arctic that goes horribly wrong. Not only does the crew have to deal with being frozen in the middle of the sea, but it also has deal with snow storms, dwindling supplies, disease, insubordination, mutiny, and a monster that likes to pick people off one-by-one. Aside from cataloguing all the supplies a few too many times, the book, which is quite long, is gripping throughout.
I was not that taken with Carrion Comfort, which is interesting because it received more critical acclaim than The Terror. Carrion Comfort won the Bram Stoker Award and the British Fantasy Award, and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. It’s also incredibly long, but it didn’t hold my attention like The Terror did. I also thought that it tried too hard, but clearly I am in a minority.
I’ve also tried Simmons’ science-fiction with Hyperion. I confess that I thought it was a standalone novel on galactic war with shades of religious commentary and space-time conundrums; it’s not. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but now I have to get my hands on The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion.
Should you read him?
If you like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, Iain M. Banks, and Peter F. Hamilton, you will like Dan Simmons.
If you like bang-up excitement, complicated characters, and intricate cross-genre stories that touch on serious world issues (without bringing you down and detracting from the tale), then you will like Dan Simmons.
I like Dan Simmons and I’m looking forward to the release of his next book, The Abominable, with a great deal of anticipation. The Abominable is expected to hit shelves (and Kindles) toward the end of October 2013.
By Sandy Cosser
Image credit: CHRIS DRUM (cdrummbks), CC BY 2.0, via Flickr