July 16, 2009

Review of Hyperion

HyperionFrom the Publisher

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.


Each of [the pilgrim's] stories would make a superb novella on its own. --The New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas

Amazon.com Review

A stunning tour de force, this Hugo Award-winning novel is the first volume in a remarkable new science fiction epic by the author of The Hollow Man.

Possibly my favourite sci-fi ever, April 25, 2001
By Keith Fraser (Oxford, England)

Hyperion is truly incredible. As well as being a science fiction version of the Canterbury Tales, it also sets out a breathtaking and at the same time chilling vision of what humanity's future might be like. It creates a spectacular and wonderfully detailed world where citizens step through farcaster portals to have lunch on another planet, mysterious artificial intelligences scheme and plot, so-called 'barbarian' Ousters migrate between the stars, and a terrifying demon-machine called the Shrike stalks the area around a set of mysterious artifacts which appear to be travelling back in time. This world is populated with all sorts of fascinating characters and cultures, such as an artificial recreation of the poet Keats, a girl doomed to age backwards and a planet of peaceful environmentalists crushed for daring to resist modernisation.

This first book of four, consisting almost exclusively of the stories told by seven pilgrims (a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a detective, a starship captain and a diplomat) as they travel across the planet Hyperion to meet the Shrike, is essentially a gigantic prologue which sets the scene for the tumultuous events of The Fall of Hyperion. It builds up a picture of the Hegemony (the 'established' human grouping) as what I take as being the author's idea of the inevitable product of today's Western civilisation, and establishes the background to the crisis that has brought the seven pilgrims together, which appears at first to be a simple war of aggression by the Ousters but turns out to have much deeper ramifications involving the AI TechnoCore, the Shrike and the future of humanity. The stories they tell also leave many unanswered questions and mysteries that will hopefully leave the reader running to find the second book. Each one is distinct--some horrific, some merely moving, all intriguing.
Comment:  Indeed Hyperion does riff on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I'd say the scholar's, the detective's, and the soldier's stories are great. The consul's and the priest's stories are very good. The poet's story is merely good, perhaps because he's the most unlikeable character.

This is the first book I've read by Dan Simmons. Based on the discussion of his novel The Terror, though, he's clearly aware of indigenous issues. This comes through in Hyperion. There are no Indians, but Simmons injects more indigenous issues than you'll find in a typical Star Trek story.

  • The priest goes into Hyperion's wilderness to minister to a primitive tribe of natives. Although he has his equipment and education, they easily take him prisoner. Like the anthropologists who studied Indians, he can't fathom their strange ways.

  • The Hegemony considers their enemies, the Ousters, a pack of ravening killers. But when the Consul gets to know the Ousters, he finds they have more cultural depth and intellectual curiosity than the worlds he knows. The Hegemony has stereotyped the Ousters just like Euro-Americans stereotyped Indians.

  • When the Hegemony opens a farcaster portal on the tropical-island world of Maui-Convenant, progress besieges the innocent sea-people. Developers buy most of the islands, oil companies set up drilling platforms, and settlers and tourists overrun the planet. The inhabitants fight back, but eventually they're reduced to pandering to visitors in festivals and marketplaces.

  • There are no alien races in the Hegemony because humans have exterminated all the sentient beings they've found. The theory is that two species can't coexist if they're competing for the same resources. The stronger species (humans) inevitably will wipe out the weaker ones.

  • Anyway, Hyperion is as good as the reviews have said. Thanks to correspondent DMarks for recommending it to me. Rob's rating:  8.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.


    dmarks said...

    Now I need to re-read the books!

    Maria said...

    Loved Hyperion, hated his other work.


    that was a review from before i moved on to hathor.

    Rob said...

    I can see Hyperion as an attack on the Catholic Church or organized religion. But I wouldn't have guessed Simmons was so prejudiced against Islam. He's as bad as Stephen, our resident Islamophobe.

    dmarks said...

    Maria: I was underwhelmed by the Olympos books. I've not been underwhelmed by the other Simmonds I've read, to say the least.

    That section of the books where everyone was watching live Odysseus porn on TV was quite silly. Or Zeus tripping on his own intestines. I laugh as I type this.