Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Hyperion




A friend gave me Dan Simmon's 1989 novel, Hyperion for my birthday in 2011 and I only just got around to reading it. Overall, the book has many wonderful things to recommend it. Unfortunately, it also has one major drawback, which we will get to later.

The story takes place in a post-Earth galactic human civilization and centers on the mysterious outpost planet of Hyperion. The planet is home to a mysterious set of structures, called the Time Tombs which produce strange effects in space-time. The tombs are home to and/or associated with a mysterious, spiky figure known as the Shrike or pleasantly nicknamed the Lord of Pain… though I hear his college buddies called him "Scooter".

The course of events follows a group of travelers selected by the Shrike Church to go on a final pilgrimage to the Time Tombs. The characters all have some previous association with Hyperion and to figure out why they were selected for the journey, they share their tales of Hyperion.

Hyperion felt like a nexus of sci-fi literature. It is unashamed in its references to science-fiction and literature in general. On a basic level, the book is one giant homage to the poet John Keats. The novel takes its name from anunfinished work by Keats of the same name. To me, it read very much like a science fiction version of Heart of Darkness, following the journey of not one, but several narrators across a bizarre and dangerous landscape on the fringes of a great hegemonic power's reach. They travel to face an enigmatic and dangerous foe, like a shiny spiky Kurtz who is able to manipulate time.

Numerous smaller references are thrown about making this a fun bit of hide and seek for the reader. For example, many of the other worlds in Hyperion hold a noirish feel similar to Blade Runner. One of the main characters, in fact, is a detective hired by a cybrid being to investigate the murder of his first body… in a weird sort of Deckard role-reversal. Human civilization is linked together in a Gibsonian vision of cyberspace called the World Web complete with black ICE, virtual wave-riding hackers and an overly visualized cyberspace. There are references to one character running with the John Carter Brigade during his early military career, and on and on…

On the other end, the book introduces many things that I see reflected in later works of sci-fi. Hyperion is, in many ways, analogous to the island from Lost with the Shrike as its very own smoke monster. There are deep-space barbarians who may very well have been appropriated into the Reavers from Firefly  and one of the characters pulls a Gaius Baltar, falling in love with an AI construct that persists in his mind even after he has unplugged from his stim-sims. Oh, the post-Earth post-wandring civilization bound in a nervous peace with machines/AI of its own creation is also very BSG... so which way does that reference flow?

Dot-connections aside, Simmons does an excellent job of telling some dark and brutal sci-fi tales. You get to know the characters, get to like them and realize that many of them have been dealt a really crappy hand. So, good characters, good plot, lots of inside references. What's not to like about Hyperion? Well, like the poem on which it is based, it doesn't have an ending. Sure the words stop, but they do so at a place that feels like a complete cop-out and leaves pretty much everything unresolved. I haven't yet opened the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, but I can only hope it finishes what this book started.

1 comment:

  1. I am just finishing the fourth volume of the Hyperion Cantos now, and I have really enjoyed the read. Not a series I will put on my must read list, but enjoyable, although the Shrike is definitely a bit overdone throughout.

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