Reviewed June 15, 2000
Never let it be said that science fiction is not literary. In this two-part novel, Dan Simmons has produced a startlingly complex and fascinating universe, replete with artificial intelligences, resurrected poets, spacefaring treeships, and shadowy powers from out of time. To add to the already considerable elegance of his writing, he does all of this by first building on a framework strongly reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and later by telling the story through the eyes of a "resurrected" 19th-century poet, John Keats.
The first novel tells the story of a pilgrimage on the remote planet Hyperion - seven travellers journeying to an area filled with ancient and ageless artifacts known as the Time Tombs, and an inevitable meeting with the Tombs' deadly attendant, the Shrike. Each person has a different reason for travelling to the site, and along the journey, they each take turns telling their stories.
Any one of these tales can easily stand alone as a novella in its own right; but by putting them together in an integrated setting, Simmons is able to create an unusually diverse and intricate universe. It is hard to imagine at first how he might draw these disparate elements together, but by the end of the second book he has indeed constructed a cohesive story out of the parts.
The first book ends (rather abruptly) as the pilgrims reach the entrance to the valley in which the Tombs are found, (leaving the unforewarned reader to scramble off to the bookstore for book two - consider yourself forewarned). The second book picks up in the halls of government in the outlying "web" of worlds, introducing the reader to details surrounding outside events only hinted at in book one, but ultimately integral to the overarching story.
Here we meet Joseph Severn, a cybrid "retrieval persona" of the long deceased poet John Keats. From here the story is his, as the novel tells this new string of events while concurrently returning us to the pilgrims on Hyperion. We learn of the impending war with the Ouster barbarians from outside the Web, and of their plans to invade Hyperion and ultimately the remaining web worlds. Joseph is brought in as an advisor to the CEO of the Web government, the Hegemony, and as such becomes privy to all of the events surrounding the war and the political machinations within the government, while retaining knowledge of the seven (give or take) pilgrims. As such, his is a perfect perspective from which the reader can view the ever-expanding worlds of the two novels.
The weakest point of the narrative is Simmons' obvious reverence for the poetry of Keats, which he assumes his readers share. At times - especially toward the end of the second book - he diverges into long tracts of poetry and bogs the story down by creating unnecessary parallels between the lives of the real historic Keats and the cybrid duplicate, Severn. He has built up quite a head of steam by this point, however, and such obstacles by no means deter the reader from enjoying the book overall.
In brief, Simmons has created an extraordinary universe in which to set his tale, and uses it to its fullest. Only when he indulges in Keats-worship does the story slow down, making the second half of the second book the weakest part of the story. Nontheless he pulls off a startling and thought-provoking ending that more than makes up for those shortcomings.
to buy this book at
ISBN# 0-553-28368-5 Bantam Spectra mass market paperback
|The Fall of Hyperion:
ISBN# 0-553-28820-2 Bantam Spectra mass market paperback