Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hyperion Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: DoubleDay
Genre: Space Opera
Series: Hyperion Cantos Book One
Pages: 492

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Hyperion is a modern sci-fi classic that kicks off author Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos a four book saga that focuses on a mysterious planet called Hyperion.  The saga is broken into two distinct sections, so when you do read Hyperion you should also get The Fall of Hyperion because that is the same part of one continuous story.  The last two books form a continuous story of their own, but are set nearly 300 years in the future.

There’s a lot going on in Hyperion so I’ll do my best to provide a basic sort of plot summary. Over 800 years in the future humanity has left Earth, and the future governing body of humans called the Hegemony now occupies over 160 different worlds.  The Hegemony’s worlds are inter-connected with technology called farcasting portals which allows instant travel. The network of interlocking worlds is called the World Web. The World Web and all of humanities higher technologies are run by the TechnoCore, a group of highly advanced AI’s. Opposing the Hegemony and these technologies are another advanced group of humans called the Ousters.

The Hegemony and the Ousters are preparing to wage war over the world Hyperion. At stake are the time tombs found on the planet which are a set of tombs have been sent back in time. Although empty currently, a date is given for when that will no longer be so.  With that date rapidly approaching one side of humanity wishes to open these tombs, while the other wishes to destroy them.  Guarding the tombs is the Shrike, a mythical all-powerful figure that’s become the inspiration for future religions. His existence is debatable but he attracts pilgrimages to the planet.

As a war that will determine the fate of mankind is about to begin, one last pilgrimage makes it’s way to the time tombs to confront the Shrike. Each of the seven members of this pilgrimage tells their story and each one has a wish they want the Shrike to grant them. But the Shrike will only grant one person’s wish and kill the rest of the pilgrims.

If the name Hyperion sounds familiar it’s because that’s also the name of one of the twelve Titans from Greek mythology.  It’s also the name of an incomplete epic by poet John Keats. It’s Keats’s epic that serves as the inspiration for this series, but those inspirations show up more prominently in the second book.  Structurally this book looks like it was a lot more influenced by Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Like Chaucer’s book, Hyperion is really a set of novellas about each of the pilgrims’s own personal stories and why they wish to visit the Shrike.  In between each story the pilgrims get closer and closer to their eventual contact with Hyperion and the Shrike, and Simmons builds upon the larger outer story which is focused more exclusively in the second book.  Each story has a different tone, making for a varied but no less exciting read as Simmons proves he’s up to the challenge to write unique stories for all of these pilgrims.  I’ll give a brief synopsis for each below:

  • Het Masteen – The Templar – He’s the pilot of the treeship that’s carrying the pilgrims to the Shrike.  He’s clouded in mystery and so are the mechanics of his ship and the priests he works with.
  • Lenar Hoyt – The Priest – Hoyt’s story largely features someone else as the main character which is Father Paul Dure.  This is a mysterious horror story with a terrifying conclusion.
  • Fedmahn Kassad – The Colonel – Kassad’s is a time spanning war story that begins at the Battle of Agincourt and scopes all the way to the most recent war with the Ousters.
  • Martin Silenus – The Poet – Silenius tells a self-indulging story that seems to oftentimes parody the selfish stereotypes attributed to vain artists.
  • Sol Weintraub – The Scholar – Weintraub’s story is my personal favorite. It’s a tragedy that’s on par with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon.  It’s very moving and gives new meaning to the phrase “later alligator.”
  • Brawne Lamia – The Detective – Lamia’s story is mystery thriller that features a cybrid version of John Keats, whom she helps investigate a murder that leads to some larger discoveries about the Hegemony.
  • The Consul – Former Governor of Hyperion – Like Hoyt, the Consul’s story features someone else as the main character.  This is a love story and a nature conservation story that makes excellent use of relativity.

Everything about Hyperion is brilliant.  It’s literary references, it’s use of scientific technology, the emotional catharsis in the individual stories told by the pilgrims, the development of each of the characters, the dialogue, the worldbuilding  … all of it. I would count this along with The Fall of Hyperion as one of the best science fiction stories I’ve read. Highly, highly recommended to everyone.

Score: 10

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