Book Review of “Hyperion”

hyperion

Cover art for Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel “Hyperion”

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dan Simmons or his award winning 1989 novel Hyperion until both were mentioned on Mike Glyer’s File 770. Actually, it was specifically the mention that he dared to insult the much vaunted teenage climate change icon Greta Thunberg. I agree that Simmons went kind of overboard on his twitter commentary, but attacking a teenager aside, criticizing Thunberg for any reason has become pretty much the worst thing you can do besides being a “denier.”

Anyway, I became interested in him and his novel, so I checked it out of my local public library and started reading. It wasn’t what I expected, but then again, I didn’t know what to expect.

Hyperion has been loosely compared to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories about seemingly unrelated people. I can kind of see that. Simmons, a former teacher, spared no effort in shoving tons and tons of literary references, many of them aimed right at Keats, into his stories. I’m sure many of them sailed way over my head. I don’t think they added much to the novel.

 

The idea is that seven people who don’t seem to have anything in common, have been chosen to go on a pilgrimage to the backwater world of Hyperion on the eve of an interstellar war. They are to confront a mysterious and often homicidal entity known as the Shrike, and attempt to discover the secret behind the time tombs. During the journey, each one agrees to tell their “story,” all of which in some way, leads back to Hyperion and the Shrike.

It was a hard novel to get into.

The first story was “The Priest’s Tale” and I almost quit reading the book because of it. At first, I was bored, and then annoyed, but finally the puzzle of how an image of Christ could have been manufactured on an alien planet hundreds if not thousands of years before the appearance of Jesus on Earth was compelling.

The next part, “The Soldier’s Tale” hooked me because of the military action, as did “The Detective’s Tale,” but what really ripped my heart out was “The Scholar’s Tale,” because it felt nightmarish to lose your own daughter, day by day, as she “de-aged” from adulthood, back into childhood, and then infancy.

A number of people have criticized “Hyperion” because it ends on a cliffhanger without resolving the quest, but I consider all but the last story interrelated, each one showing a different aspect of the planet and its mysteries.

“Part Six, The Consul’s Tale” didn’t relate to Hyperion at all, not until the Consul explained the story of his grandparents and his plot for revenge against humanity by releasing the Shrike in the first (or last) place.

Simmons dabbles in depicting Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism in the far future, as well as a number of made up religions, but they all seem hollow. I can’t imagine a Judaism with Earth destroyed and Israel abandoned. How could the Jewish people reconcile the prophesies of God without a Jerusalem?

Simmons does create an interesting universe that spans countless light years and centuries, inventing technologies so advanced he really doesn’t have to explain them. After all, this is a human story, not one that dazzles by exacting scientific accuracy.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I have decided it was well worth reading, but in spite of it winning both a Hugo and a Locus Award, it’s hardly perfect. In fact, it’s a tad pretentious, especially for those of us who aren’t particularly into poetry or arcane literary references.

Yes, the story is incomplete, but I don’t think I’ll jump right out and grab a copy of The Fall of Hyperion. This, after all, is a four book series, and I prefer a bit of variety between one book and the next. I suppose I’ll circle around and read the second book eventually, just to see what happens to Rachel. Out of all of the characters and their traumas, she’s the only one I want to be saved.

2 thoughts on “Book Review of “Hyperion”

  1. I think my favorite section of the book was the investigator. It had a clear plot, excitement, and heroes.

    And I agree – the book is pretentious, and I almost feel like The Poet was supposed to be a sort of self-insert character to talk about the author’s intents. Great review.

    Like

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