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Hyperion – Dan Simmons

My home has thirty-eight rooms on thirty-six worlds. No doors: the arched entrances are farcaster portals, a few opaqued with privacy curtains, most open to observation and entry. Each room has windows everywhere and at least two walls with portals. From the grand dining hall on Renaissance Vector, I can see the bronze skies and the verdigris towers of Keep Enable in the valley below my volcanic peak, and by turning my head I can look through the farcaster portal and across the expanse of white carpet in the formal living area to see the Edgar Allan Sea crash against the spires of Point Prospero on Nevermore. My library looks out on the glaciers and green skies of Nordholm while a walk of ten paces allows me to descend a short stairway to my tower study, a comfortable, open room encircled by polarized glass which offers a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of the highest peaks of the Kushpat Karakoram, a mountain range two thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.

Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel Hyperion won the Hugo award for best science fiction novel of that year, and with good reason. In the distant future and on the brink of the apocalypse for the human race, a misfit band of seven pilgrims (and a baby) makes its way to the planet Hyperion to visit the mysterious creature the Shrike–known as the Lord of Pain to the interstellar church dedicated to it. The trip itself is uneventful and the route largely deserted since most people on Hyperion are trying to escape the collision course between the Shrike, the Hegemony of Man, and the Ousters set for the planet. This is to be the final pilgrimage.

Without other distractions, the pilgrims choose to tell each other their stories, which are recorded by the Consul, a mysterious career diplomat who once oversaw Hyperion for the Hegemony. One by one they spin out their stories, a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar (and father), an investigator, and a diplomat, all revealing their connections to the Shrike, their secrets, and, ultimately, what they hope to accomplish on the trip. There is action and adventure without being an a&a story, family without being a family story, origins without being an origin story, love without being a love story, and religion without being a religious story. Of course, it is all of those. These stories-within-the-story span the planets occupied by human beings since the “hegira” away from earth and the centuries since the exodus took place. Hyperion, the planet that seems fated to be the site of the apocalypse, is an out of the way world settled by the Sad King Billy with the dream of turning it into a artistic paradise that has since become a ramshackle backwater.

Remarkably, each of the sub-stories subtly shifts the presentation toward the tenor of the new narrator’s account. Taken together, the stories form a collage of human civilization across the Worldweb, the planets linked by farcaster portals (portals that don’t require weeks of travel and years of time-debt to travel between worlds), which mimics human society on earth just with better technology.

It is often said that science fiction and fantasy are genres of ideas, and Hyperion has those to spare, but what set it apart is how visually stunning the novel is. Simmons is over the top when it comes to his descriptive prose and allusive names, but once, I settled into the style, the descriptions became increasingly affecting and, in turn, gave new vividness to the sub-stories. The quote that opened this review is one example of how this worked without giving away anything of the plot. The speaker at the time goes further to note the challenge of adjusting to such a house since each individual room had a different level –and sometimes orientation– of gravity. Hyperion is a deeply moving account of traveling companions telling each other tales as the worlds come crashing down behind them, which adds to the surreality and beauty of story. This is one I can say without reservation I highly recommend.

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I don’t know what I am going to read next in part because I am probably going to a bookstore later today and want to leave my options open. Instead of a novel, last night I started reading M.I. Rostovtzeff’s 1932 book Caravan Cities about the social and economic history of cities located along caravan routes in the Middle East during the Hellenistic Period. Thus far it is interesting, but both less well cited and less pithy than his Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World.

One Comment

  1. Chad wrote:

    I’ve set myself a goal of reading all the books that have won both the hugo and nebula awards. This is a start to getting a deeper background in classical scifi. Just started The Forever War.

    Monday, December 21, 2015 at 12:16 | Permalink