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.