Hyperion by Dan Simmons

From the publisher: On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike.  There are those who worship it.  There are those who fear it.  And there are those who have vowed to destroy it.  In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.  On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives.  Each carries a desperate hope–and a terrible secret.  And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

It’s been over two decades since Dan Simmons first published Hyperion. In perspective, the book was published a few weeks after I was born. But it is to my extreme misfortune that I never crossed paths with this book until a few months ago.

What’s not to like about science fiction that is heavily influences by and pays homage to the literature that came before it? The premise of the novel sets the seven pilgrims on a Chaucer-like pilgrimage to the Shrike and the Time Tombs. So maybe it’s not exactly the England of the Canterbury Tales. But you’ve got to appreciate an author who winks and smiles at his readers and assures them there’s a reason they struggled through Chaucer, however painful or not painful.

Hyperion is kind of like sci-fi for literature nerds. In addition to the Chaucer, we’ve got allusions to John Keats and his unfinished poem, “Hyperion, as well as digs at the sci-fi publishing industry and a tip-of-the-hat to William Gibson and the classic noir novels of Raymond Chandler. Simmons is a total literature nerd. And I can’t help, but love him for it. Who else would I want guiding me through this bleak and grotesque future of the post-Earth Hegemony?

Told in parts by the Pilgrims, we get a terrible and beautiful picture of the world called Hyperion. I knew I was in love with Hyperion when I stayed up two extra hours reading about the trials and tribulations of Father Dure amongst the Bikura and then spent another two hours after that trying to fall asleep. And I wasn’t even sorry about it in the morning.

The back-cover description from the publisher doesn’t do this book justice. Sure, it piqued my interest. But after reading Hyperion itself I can’t help, but feel that the enticement falls quite flat and feels lame in comparison to the novel itself. I’m told that the later books in this series (The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion,  and Endymion Rising) don’t pack the same extraordinary one-two punch of horror and beauty. I’m not deterred though; I’ll inspect these books for myself.

Simmons is a talented writer. The world of the Hegemony is well-constructed and life-like. We believe in the characters, their unique voices, and their tortured pasts. We believe in the pilgrimage, in the war, and in the Hegemony. And above all, we believe in the Shrike.


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