Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
First Published: Headline Publishing Group/Doubleday Foundation (1989)
Series: Book 1 in the Hyperion Cantos
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards
Awards Nominated: BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke Awards

The Book:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.”

This is a series I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and I am finally getting started with it in audiobook form!  The audiobook had five narrators, which made it feel more like a dramatic presentation than simply a story read out loud.  I thought the production was really well done. 

I haven’t read anything by Dan Simmons before, so my only knowledge going into Hyperion was that it was a kind of far-future Canterbury Tales, and that just about every sci-fi fan I know was horrified I hadn’t read the series yet.  I’ve also heard a rumor that Syfy is going to adapt Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion into a miniseries.  I haven’t seen any trailers yet, but I am cautiously excited.

My Thoughts:

Hyperion clearly carries a number of literary influences, the most obvious being Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Keats unfinished epic poem Hyperion. As in Canterbury Tales, the basic story structure is of a group of pilgrims sharing their stories while traveling.  In this case, though, they are traveling to the mysterious Time Tombs on a planet known as Hyperion, which is a holy site for those who worship the murderous Shrike (a religion to which none of the pilgrims actually belong).  I found the setting and the characters’ motivations in the framing story to be really confusing at first, but each of their tales fleshed out both the universe and their places in it. Each tale also provided an opportunity to explore a different subgenre, as well as a different angle on the sprawling far-future human civilization.  With all so many different styles, I think there’s bound to be something here to appeal to any science fiction fan.  

I was hooked right away by the Priest’s Tale, a religious sci-fi horror that explores the wilds of Hyperion.  The Soldier’s Tale was less to my interests, as a military SF tale featuring battles and sex with a fantasy girl, but it gave background information about the war between the Ousters and the rest of humanity.  The Poet’s Tale was a dramatic memoir about the state of art and the publishing industry in this sprawling galactic civilization.  The Scholar’s Tale was a moving tragedy that explored being Jewish in a post-Earth society as well as a heartbreaking time-field-related illness.  The Detective’s Tale was more noir, and had some interesting ideas about identity (as well as an awesome magic ‘Hawking’ carpet). Finally, the Consul’s Tale was a romance revolving around the effects of the time differential caused by interstellar travel.  I initially thought it killed the novel’s momentum, but in the end I understood while his tale needed to be the last to be told.            

While I enjoyed some stories more than others, I think it was impressive the way they built on one another to slowly explain the current situation of both human and AI civilization, to reveal the inner thoughts of each character, and to develop the meaning and purpose of the pilgrimage.  The universe of Hyperion seems vast and complicated--I was constantly surprised to see that there was yet another aspect to explore, and that all the details held together as a coherent whole.  For one small fascinating detail out of many, I was surprised that the story both took into account the effects of time dilation in interstellar travel, and introduced ‘farcasters’ that physically cut through space. The world of Hyperion was delightfully complex and strange, and the story effectively built up the ominous atmosphere surrounding it.  My only frustration is that I want to know what happens after the pilgrimage is complete, and for that I must carry on to The Fall of Hyperion, preferably soon.

My Rating: 5/5

I’m glad I finally got around to reading the first book of Simmons’s classic series, Hyperion, which somehow makes the idea of a far-future science fiction Canterbury Tales work extremely well.  There’s far too much in this book to discuss in just a short review, but I loved how each of the pilgrim’s tales gave us a different perspective on the creative universe Simmons has imagined.  Each tale also fell into a different subgenre, providing a wide variety of styles that likely appeal to many different kinds of readers.  I’m excited to see what the rest of the series has to offer!

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