Monday, August 28, 2006

Book 71: The Fall of Hyperion

Hyperion is one of the finest science fiction novels published and it is also a literary treat. Dan Simmons built a science fiction story around the format of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Men and women are on a pilgrimage to some sort of a shrine and they are telling their stories and in turn it tells the story of the pilgrimage. The novel is perfectly executed and gives a vision of a future where humanity has expanded to the stars and is reliant on AI for much of its transportation and they are unaware of just how reliant they are. There is also a potential invading force of the "Ousters", humans who do not live the way the "Web" does. There is a cult of the Shrike on the planet of Hyperion which worships this super-powerful being which does little more than kill and brutalize. But this only hints at the straws of the story of Hyperion. The Fall of Hyperion is the sequel and it picks up with each of the pilgrim stories told. Now we do not have the literary format of Chaucer to fall back on but Simmons instead advances the storylines of his assorted and vast cast of characters at a rapid pace.

Things change fast in this book and the reader has to keep up. The Shrike begins picking off the pilgrims one by one, leaving them wondering who is next and how they can reach the Shrike considering they are on a pilgrimage to the Shrike. There is an Artificial Intelligence creation which puts in the body of a man the complete personality of the poet John Keats, only he knows both the life of Keats as well as his own responsibilities and this AI can dream of the events of the pilgrimage as well as interact with the leaders of humanity dealing with the invasion of the Ousters at Hyperion. There is also something deeper and more ominous going on with the AI Core.

The Fall of Hyperion is such a vast novel of epic scope that giving a decent description of the plot is difficult without laying out entire plotlines which would then ruin some of the enjoyment of actually reading the novel. Suffice it to say that The Fall of Hyperion is like nothing I have read before and it is outstanding. It is not quite the science fiction genius of Hyperion which gets some of its kudos because of how Simmons ties The Canterbury Tales in with his novel, but Fall is outstanding in its own right. Simmons has a masterful command of the English language and his imagination is second to none. This sequence of novels (which will be continued with Endymion) proves that science fiction can be a genre story as well as be Literature with a capital L. There is an excellence of language and craft here that rises above the genre and would be Literary (meaning that Simmons both tells a story as well as reaches into deeper command of craft and character development, it is a particular style).

Well done, Mr. Simmons. Well done.

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