My latest read was Dan Simmons‘ 1989 book Hyperion, a true masterpiece of the science fiction genre. The book is addictive and fast paced, it didn’t last long and I stayed up well past my bedtime pouring through its pages.
The fast-paced stunner of a space opera achieves what few sci-fi writers even attempt; a vision that is complex, multi-faceted, and worthy of being described as literature rather than just fiction. There are three sequels to Hyperion — The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and The Fall of Endymion. I plan to read them all.
Hyperion is littered with literary, religious and philosophical references all of which add some nice depth to the story line — a seemingly unusual thing in sci-fi. Even the novel’s title references the abandoned epic poem by English poet John Keats who died in 1821 and the Keats references don’t stop there. The references are appropriate and are not in your face or forced, unlike many novels that try to hard to impress.
Hyperion tells the story of six “pilgrims” on their voyage to a planet that houses many secrets including a legendary God-like creature called the Shrike. The pilgrims all tell their life story in an effort to determine why they were chosen to travel on this mysterious mission.
The novel takes place in the twenty ninth century after the death of Jesus. Humankind has colonized many reaches of the galaxy, building a web of worlds connected by gates which provide instantaneous travel between them. Another interesting element to the story is that as a species we have created a god-like, all-knowing artificial intelligence system which inhabits a domain known as the TechnoCore — think giant internet system that spans the galaxy and is self-aware.
Interestingly, the only creature which humanity has discovered in the galaxy which they can’t understand/destroy may be an actual god, the Shrike, a legendary killing machine that lives in a set of “Time Tombs” on the planet of Hyperion. Hyperion is not part of the “web”, likely in an effort to keep the shrike from instantly traveling to other parts of the web, so it requires travel by regular old slow spaceships.
The novel presents each pilgrim one by one. The pilgrimage consists of a soldier, priest, scholar, diplomat, detective and a very foul mouthed alcoholic poet. Their lives are greatly varied and their stories will shock you. The complexity and diversity presented by Simmons is pretty impressive. Characters you previously judged as annoying or weak become impossible to not empathize with as you better understand them.
It’s really rather incredible how Simmons can illustrate everyone from a hardened soldier to a priest so believably. It’s an ability not shared by many writers.
Hyperion is somewhat dependent on its sequel, which I am reading now, as it ends with a serious tooth-grinding cliff-hanger. Do not pickup Hyperion if you’re looking for a light read. It’s a fun read, but it is not light. It’s semi-horrific and it’s dark and at time it’s a bit gut wrenching, but it’s honest and the underlying truths about humanity are hard to deny. No topic is safe as death, love, parenthood, expression through art and religion are all deeply explored and contorted into horrific proportions.
If you enjoy sci-fi or just enjoy an exciting, action packed read with depth I highly recommend checking out Hyperion. Just be ready to pour through some pages, because you’re going to want to consume this one as quickly as possible.