Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Spectra Publishing, © 1990
ISBN 978-0553283686
Mass Market Paperback, 481 pages, $6.82

In a dark and foreboding universe, Hyperion is only one among many terraformed human worlds, though it may well be the oddest. Home to the Time Tombs, which move backward through time, Hyperion is also home to the Shrike, a horrific monster said to guard the Tombs. Some hate the Shrike. Other worship it. All fear it. Yet legend has it that the monster grants audience to pilgrims who come on foot in groups of prime numbers, and that it hears all petitions and grants one wish. The catch—there’s always a catch—is that most people who encounter the Shrike die in unspeakable ways.

With humanity on the brink of war, and Hyperion a central focus for both sides, future pilgrimages are suspended. One last group makes its way against the tide of evacuations as the enemy draws nearer. Knowing they are likely marching to their deaths, each of these final pilgrims tells their tale of connection to the abandoned world, revealing bit by bit the connection between them all and what ties them to the Shrike.

Though this review only covers the first book in the series, the Hyperion Cantos is actually a four-book series. The first two volumes, Hyperion (1990) and The Fall of Hyperion (1995), take place in the same era. The last two, Endymion (1995) and The Rise of Endymion (1997), follow the story 272 years later. Further reviews on those books will follow as I read them.

There’s a lot to love in this book. The characters project rich backgrounds and unique personalities, especially with their stories, each rife with details that explain not only why they’ve come to the pilgrimage in the first place but why they are who they are. Some of the characters are easy to like. Personally, I loved Sol Weintraub’s tragic saga of his daughter. The Consul, too, caught my sympathy with his tale of a love carried out across time differences. Other characters—the poet, Martin Silenus, for example—left me cold. If I happened to meet Silenus in real time/space, I would want nothing to do with him. His tale, however, is intriguing, as are they all. In fact, the pilgrims’ accounts are both the strength and the weakness of Hyperion. They draw the reader in and snare her on the details, on wondering how this connects to the larger narrative; at the same time, just at the point where the reader is most engrossed, the pilgrim’s tale ends, and the reader is thrust back into the larger story of their trek. I found it a bit jarring, a la Canterbury Tales, but not enough to put down the novel, thank goodness. It was worth my time.

I will say that this book is not an easy read. Nor is it suitable for someone who enjoys only light sci-fi; Hyperion is a true space opera. Time-debts (differentials in the passage of time between those on a planetary surface and those engaged in space travel) play a key role in the story overall, which is a bit confusing at first. Technology in the Hegemony of Man is (no pun intended) light-years ahead of contemporary Earth civilization. Farcasters connect distant worlds through portals (WorldWeb) which I envisioned to be gates, similar to those in the old Stargate television series. Humans are allied with AIs, who inhabit and run the TechnoCore and control all mankind’s high tech. Some humans have data ports in their brains so that they can be plugged into the Web on a constant basis. And that’s just the basics. In most cases, Simmons offers no explanation for terminology such as “the hive” and “treeship,” leaving the reader to imagine it on her own. In addition, some characters are centuries old — due in part to available medical technology.

Readers who love such imagined futures in sci-fi will love this classic. But don’t just get the first book; get all four. I wish I had, since this is not a standalone book. If you want to know how it ends, you must read on.

Overall, I found this to be a most enjoyable read, and look forward to continuing the saga with The Fall of Hyperion.