Ilium (2003) Dan Simmons, Gollancz, £10.99, pbk, 576pp, ISBN 0-575-07260-1
Ilium (2009 reprint) Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 629pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08330-1
This is far and away the best book I have read all year! If it does not win every award going, then there is just no justice (of course, as I write it is only mid-September, and who knows what is to come before the close of 2003). Whether writing SF, fantasy, horror or, indeed, thrillers, Dan Simmons is quite simply one of the best writers writing in any genre at any time; a staggering talent. And Ilium is clearly just the beginning of a tale that's set to continue (and hooray for that) and has a scope and complexity to rival the Hugo-winning Hyperion books.
As the title implies, the kick off point for this tale is the Iliad, the story of the 10-year siege of Troy following Helen's abduction. This event is being witnessed by a 20th century academic brought to life by the Greek gods, though only he and Zeus know the course of the Iliad, this knowledge having been forbidden to the others in the pantheon. These gods live on Olympus Mons on Mars in the far future and may (or may not) be post-humans from Earth. The few thousand humans left on Earth watch the drama unfold via Turin-cloths as an entertainment, unaware of the existence of the gods except as players in the drama. Meanwhile the moravecs (a bio-mechanical race engineered by earlier humans) of the outer solar system are becoming worried by the amount of quantum tunnelling going on in the inner system and send agents to investigate. The humans lead lives of luxury and ease, but are restricted to just 100 years of existence, but a small group discover a 1,400 year old woman and attempt to reach the habitation rings above the planet where the post-humans are said to dwell, and where a heavenly life awaits those who reach their 100th birthday. But not all is as it seems and the multiple uses of quantum tunnelling appears to have ripped a hole in the fabric of reality letting something in from outside...
I dare not tell you, or even hint, at where the tale reaches by the conclusion of this volume, but I will say that I am tingling with excitement and impatience for the next book. Simmons has created a wonderful cast of characters, a fantastic universe and a fabulous read. I don't just recommend this book, if you are any fan of SF at all then I insist that you buy it, then your mind can be boggled too!
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