This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

11 September, 2013

REVIEW: HYPERION

Cover based on illustration by Larry Rostant/Artist Partners

HYPERION
HYPERION BOOK 1
BY
DAN SIMMONS

ISBN: 978-0-575-09943-2
Pages: 473
Publisher: Gollancz
First published: 26 May 1989
This edition published: 12 May 2011

On the cover:

The universe of the Human Hegemony is under threat. Invasion by the warlike Ousters looms, and the mysterious schemes of the secessionist AI TechnoCore bring chaos ever closer.

On the eve of disaster, seven pilgrims set out on a quest for the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, part god and part killing machine with powers that transcend the limits of time and space. The pilgrims have resolved to discover nothing less than the secrets of the universe itself.


   This Science Fiction novel is, I am told, inspired by The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I'm sure that is correct, but I have very little knowledge of The Canterbury Tales myself. I've gotten the impression that they are important to English literature, but since my High School English teacher devoted three fucking months to Hamlet, we didn't have time to learn about any other part of the English literary heritage. Ahem... So, this review is done without any prior knowledge, knowing your Chaucer might make for a different reading.

   Obviously the "tales within a tale" structure is nothing new, quite a few examples come to mind within SFF, A Thousand and One Nights being the obvious one. What really matters her is how Simmons uses it. And I can't really fault what he does there.
   The six tales in Hyperion are very different from eachother, and they have influence from several genres and subgenres. They aren't only superficially influenced by these genres, but stylistically too. This makes for very diverse reading in a single novel. And it does take a bit of effort to follow the shifts when another tale comes along.

   Simmons has not only written some good stories within this novel, the novel's story itself is a very interesting one. It may not be much as a freestanding story, it would be a bit too slight for that, but it is coherent and complete.
   There is not any problem here that the revelations that matter to the overarching story is told in the tales contained within the story. It's a feature of this novel, and it works very well. Simmons gives us the information about our destination from different angles, and in completely different ways. This not only makes for great variety, it means that there is some degree of uncertainty to the information we have given. Even when everything is revealed there is a great deal of mystery left, but actually not in a way that makes this story unfulfilling.

   This being a Science Fiction novel, there's quite a bit of worldbuilding needed to give us a flavour of how society has evolved. Again, much of this is done through  the different tales. There is really a lot of great glimpses into the 28th century setting of the story.
   In the course of the novel we get some glimpses into warfare, travel, AI, family life, religion, and generally a good idea about how society has evolved. I found the world that serves as the backdrop for this interesting in its own right. The structure of this novel means that we aren't immersed to a great degree, there's simply not room for it. But what we get to see is glimpses that reveal a fascinating development from our own time.

   The characters are in many ways very integral to the stories they tell, and most of the character building is done through those tales. That the tales are so intimate means that we get pretty close to them. We do after all get to follow them through what is for some of them lifechanging events.
   They are of course a select group, not only in the obvious way that the author has chosen to tell his story through these characters, but they are also selected for this journey within the framework of the story. This can sound like a bit of "chosen one" trope, but that is far from the feeling you get when you read the story. These people may be in a special situation now, and been in special situations in the past, but they are all very much brought to life by what we learn about them.
   Structurally this novel doesn't give very much room for growth within the framework story. But that doesn't matter at all, we follow the characters and see them come to life in their own tales in a way that gets us closer to them than if we had did it through one narrative.

   This stands out among the Science Fiction I have read. The narrative gives it a very fresh feelings structurally, and Simmons' writing is excellent throughout. Like I said above, the influences from different genres work very well, and the characters are interesting to follow.
   There's nothing I can point to as being wrong with this novel, it comes extremely close to perfection, and deserves a place among the best of Science Fiction. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in reading Science Fiction. And anyone who is a fan of the genre should see it as an obligation to pick it up if they haven't already.

LINKS: Dan Simmons  Gollancz  Gollancz Blog

4 comments:

  1. HYPERION is one of my all-time favorite books, thank you for reviewing it. It's unusual to see a book review these days of a book that was written over 20 years ago. The sequel, THE FALL OF HYPERION, is even better and is written with a much different narrative style. You should absolutely read it right away. I always say if you are a true SF fan you must read these two books by Simmons.

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    1. I will definitely be reading The Fall of Hyperion, not sure when yet. Haven't bought it yet, and my TBR Mountain is getting rather huge.

      I do review books that are not newly released on a (not so)regular basis. You can find several in the review index tab at the top of the page. I'll have more coming up later too, including some H.G. Wells. :-)

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  2. I read this and the sequel years ago, and while I remember enjoying them, I also remember being confused a lot. Possibly I was too young, who knows? Great review!

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  3. Close to perfection indeed. Dan Simmons is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I've read the Cantos (all four books) at least six times since discovering the saga back in the early 00s.

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