Posted in Reviews

Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Spoiler-free Snippet

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is a science fiction novel written in the style of The Canterbury Tales. A group of pilgrims set out for a mysterious destination and deity in hopes of having a wish granted. As they make the journey, they decide to share their tales. Hyperion was a READ until about 80 percent through, when you get to the story of the Consul. From then on, it’s as if the writer decides he’d rather recount The Wizard of Oz in a far-future space adventure. The book is worth reading for the compelling stories and characters prior to that, though. With an interesting set of stories and a solid delivery method, Hyperion is a solid choice for a science fiction reader. I’m calling it a READ WITH CAUTION, though. Be prepared for a let down at the end.

Here, There Be Spoilers

Hyperion is basically a science fiction version of The Canterbury Tales, as I said before (with less kissing of bare ass). We follow seven pilgrims on their journey to see the mystical Shrike, a bladed, metal monster that resides in the Time Tombs on the outer planet Hyperion. Each pilgrim has the potential chance to propose a wish to the Shrike, who may choose to grant the wish of one person, then kill the rest. As the journey unfolds, they all decide to share their stories, detailing how each one’s life has been irrevocably changed by the Shrike and Hyperion’s existence. The tales are even named similarly to Chaucer’s Tales, such as “The Detective’s Tale.”

Simmons touches on some grand and engaging themes and locales in Hyperion. We see a giant tree ship that hurtles through space as a living vessel for a grand race of Templars. At one point, the group crosses a vast sea of grass on a wind ship in a Ghibli-esque situation. Giant manta rays pull a barge down a river. Great Tesla tree forests spit fiery electricity at anyone unlucky enough to be in their midst. Houses contain windows to other worlds through teleportation-style transportation devices. The mysterious Shrike legend and cultures themselves are fairly vibrant, even if some aren’t explained enough for me.

The story is solid, but the writing falls prey to something that a lot of fantasy and older science fiction books seem to have a weakness for: over description. The intricacy of buttons on a coat and the mind-numblingly complex functionalities of completely fiction future tech are presented in excruciating detail. It was the sort of thing that makes my eyes glaze over. After I read five paragraphs about buttons, I can’t remember who was wearing the coat. Some folks might like the descriptions of the crazy future tech, but for me it encumbered an otherwise good story, and brought the whole thing down a notch.

There was an unfortunate amount of what I would consider the author’s passions in the story, to the point that it felt phony. I find it hard to believe that seven centuries after Earth dies in the future that people would quote Twain. Occasionally, there was reference to someone who had done something in poetry or literature beyond our own time line, but every other referenced was bogged down in our time (the Hawking drive and Hyperion itself). Simmons seems to have a fascination with the poet Keats. In the realm of the story, it seems fairly reasonable for the poet to know Keats, but overall it jarred me from immersion.

The tales are each worthy of a review in their own right. Sol’s story was the most moving, as I think we can all understand the pain and awful circumstances he is going through (although the Abraham/obedient Jew angle seems a bit dry). Simmons wrote Martin into a character that I very much disliked. While it is generally a good writer that makes one feel palpable distaste for a character, Martin became a bit of a one-trick pony.

In all, the last 20 percent of the book ruined it all. The Consul’s story felt like it was some odd Romeo and Juliet tragedy with dolphins and time debt, and I skipped a large chunk of it. The ending of the book was baffling. Quite literally, the group of pilgrims holds hands and sings a song while walking toward the Shrike waiting for them with a horrendous space battle happening overhead. I half expected them to skip. It felt so different from the rest of the book, like they had all somehow solved their problems by telling their stories and now they were perfectly settled and ready to face certain death from a red-eyed, blade-covered foe that had caused them all hardship in the past.

I would call this book a READ WITH CAUTION. I don’t intend to read the second book. Really, the book is a READ until you get to the end.

Edit (10/21): Removed my notion that the Templars were assassins. For some reason, I had the sense that they were talking about Masteen as though he was from a race of assassins, but my lovely fiance asked me what I was talking about and I did some research.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

  1. The end was not really that baffling… Was that not the entire purpose of the pilgrimage? To meet the Shriek? And the sequel is just as good… I still recommend it as they were conceived as a single novel but the publisher deemed it too long to publish.

    1. Thanks for the comment! The end was baffling to me because it seemed so abrupt. It was as if the Consul’s story was told and everyone was suddenly like “Oh wow, my problems are gone!” I know there’s a sense of relief that comes from finally meeting a destination, and a sort of religious cleansing that comes with a pilgrimage, but it felt altogether too suddenly Disney to make me feel like it wasn’t forced. I suppose the best way to put it is that I had a sense of “Huh?” when I was reading the last few pages, which I don’t think was the intention. I can see why others wouldn’t find the ending as jarring or baffling, but for me it just felt incredibly odd.

      1. Think for a minute why people go on a pilgrimage…. They seek forgiveness from a vengeful God, they seek solace, they seek treatment for their ills — the novel is a range of characters seeking essentially “God” for a variety of reasons. Thus, they approach the Shriek with uncertainty as they would approach an alter, or a relic, or a holy shrine.

        (part of the jarring nature is as I stated: the second novel in the sequence was conceived of in conjunction with the first. But, the publisher published them separately. There is a shift between the novels so it is not surprising the point where the bifurcation occurred).

      2. (I also realize that I read the novel a good 10 years ago so I am remembering the approach to the Shriek but not the extreme end of the novel — hmmm. Sorry).

      3. No worries! I appreciate your point of view. I do agree that the pilgrimage in itself is a big way for all of them to get a sense of peace and comfort that they hadn’t had for a long time — including those who feel the Shrike is the only solution to their issues. I can definitely see where the novels being ripped apart contributes to my jarred feeling. I was just a little thrown by the holding hands and singing at the end. Even if I was comforted and feeling renewed, I don’t think I’d react that way while heading down to the Shrike. Of course, maybe I’m too cynical ;-).

      4. I think people are presented with this situation every day! God allowed this massacre to happen? Let us pray for the end to this violence etc etc etc. Is it really that weird?

      5. I think the juxtaposition of the extreme violence perpetrated by the Shriek and the “belief” of those seeking the Shriek is very purposeful! Don’t get me wrong, there is supposed to be a jolt of “really?” But if we think about it, a future where this type of religious feeling is possible is sort of strange for SF!

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