Science Fiction Book Review


Hyperion

(1989/2005) Dan Simmons, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 473pp, ISBN 0-575-07637-2

(2007 reprint) Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 467pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8114-7

Both this and its 1990 sequel The Fall of Hyperion (Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 535pp, ISBN 0-575-07638-0) have been published in new editions to co-incide with the release of the collected The Endymion Omnibus (2005), comprised of the next two books in this sequence collectively known as the "Hyperion Cantos", which is only slightly confusing in that both Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion were themselves collected in 1990 as The Hyperion Cantos, with me? They are rightly seen as one novel, but have a more than fortuitous structural break about half way through, easily allowing their separate publication. The same cannot really be said of the further sequels. By 1989 Dan Simmons was already a much honoured writer (his debut novel Song of Kali (1985) had won the World Fantasy Award, among others) and he was to enhance his reputation further with the release of three books at once. Phases of Gravity is a largely mainstream novel about the epiphanies of a retired astronaut, but it was completely overshadowed by Carrion Comfort, which topped the annual Locus readers' poll in the 'Horror' category, about three sadistic mutant humans who can feed on the psychic experiences of others, and also by Hyperion, deserved winner of the 1990 Hugo for 'Best Novel' and topping the Locus readers' poll. Both The Fall of Hyperion and the collected The Hyperion Cantos followed in 1990, the former topping the Locus readers' poll in 1991. An indication of how significant Hyperion and its sequel is to SF in general is that discussion of the two titles accounts for fully half of Dan Simmons' entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1999 edition).

In the first book we are introduced to the universe at large. It is the 29th century and the Hegemony of Man covers a million worlds which are linked by farcaster portals so sophisticated that, for those that can afford them, people can own houses whose rooms are each on a different world. This empire is under threat from without by the Ousters, rebel humans mutated beyond recognition, and also from within by secessionist factions of the AI Technocore. Structured after Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales this books follows the journeys and stories of seven pilgrims who, on the eve of galactic war, are travelling to the fabled Time Tombs on Hyperion, structures which are travelling backward through time, guarded by the fearsome Shrike, a multi-bladed killing machine with godlike powers to transcend time and space. Though the separate tales are each told within a different SF idiom, the pilgrims each have a secret, the significance of which increases throughout, and each a puzzle to solve, each piece of which in combination promises a solution to a greater mystery still...

In the sequel, more traditionally structured, the various factions in the galaxy find themselves drawn to Hyperion, like pilgrims themselves, Humans, Ousters and AIs alike. The Time Tombs are opening and the seven protagonists of the first book prepare to confront the Shrike. The AIs which live within the farcaster network are at work trying to create the Ultimate Intelligence, the genesis of which could mean Humankind's extinction and the galaxy stands on the brink of Apocalypse. The books are each named after lengthy unfinished poems by John Keats, but it is the sequel which most mirrors their theme(s) of new gods displacing old (cf. the ancient Greek pantheon displacing the Titans). Both books are highly recommended.

Tony Chester


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