Science Fiction Book Review

The Endymion Omnibus

(2005) Dan Simmons, Gollancz, 12.99, trdpbk, 983pp, ISBN 0-575-07634-5

In 1989 Dan Simmons set the SF world alight with Hyperion, swiftly followed a year later with the sequel The Fall of Hyperion, the former winning the 1990 Hugo for Best Novel, and later that year the two volumes were collected as The Hyperion Cantos. In 1996 he continued the story in Endymion which also spawned a sequel in 1997, The Rise of Endymion, which topped the Locus readers' poll in 1998. Now for the first time, so I am told, the two Endymion volumes have been collected as The Endymion Omnibus. While it makes sense that the two Hyperion volumes should have been collected together being, essentially, two halves of a single work, it is less the case with the Endymion books, which is probably why it has taken so long for them to be released as a single book.

It is the 33rd century, over 250 years since the events of the Hyperion books, when the Hegemony of Humankind lost access to, and control of, the farcaster network making galactic travel the province of slower-than-light spaceships. One of the original seven pilgrims, Brawne Lamia, and the resurrected cybrid John Keats had a daughter, Aenea, who disappeared when aged eleven into the Sphinx, one of the Time Tombs on Hyperion that is travelling backwards through time. After 263 years she is set to re-emerge and fulfil her destiny to become The One Who Teaches, a messiah-like figure who is to demonstrate what the farcaster network is really for (travel and communication being considered a 'trivial' use of the technology). Raul Endymion is a native of Hyperion, due to be executed. Since he has not 'converted' to the prevailing techno-religion, his execution will be a 'final' death, without possibility of resurrection. So it is something of a surprise for him to wake up alive half a continent away in the abandoned University of Endymion. He has been chosen by Aenea's uncle, Martin Silenus, another of the seven pilgrims, to accompany his niece into the future and be her protector until she can fulfil her destined role.

Simmons' themes of human transcendence necessarily demand a metaphysical treatment of the plotline(s), which can make for uncomfortable and sometimes confusing reading. The unfixed future from which the Time Tombs and the Shrike come and the implication that the farcaster network contains the consciousnesses of all humans, past, present and future serve at times to muddy the narrative which, in my opinion, makes the Endymion books somewhat less successful than the Hyperion works. Thankfully Simmons' strong sense of character, pace and invention (not to mention humour) keeps everything tripping along relatively smoothly. I have around two dozen Dan Simmons' titles on my shelves, and he rarely disappoints, whether writing SF, fantasy, horror, thriller or detective fiction. The only drawback being that it can be some time before Simmons returns to any one genre; for instance, after this his next major SF work was 2003's Ilium, which topped the Locus readers' poll in 2004. Nonetheless, bearing in mind the caveats above, The Endymion Omnibus is still highly recommended, not least because Dan Simmons on a bad day is still hugely better than the vast majority of writers at their best.

Tony Chester

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