Sunday, August 7, 2016

Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo Award-winning novel that has been on my radar for quite some time. It was described to me as Geoffery Chaucer's Cantenbury Tales in Space and it certainly has similar elements to it. The story revolves around a band of 7 pilgrims as they travel on the world of Hyperion in the brink of war. Each has their own personal motives and one of them is a traitor, but all were selected for this special pilgrimage. They resort to telling their stories to each other to figure out why they are here and what makes them, and Hyperion, special.

Read on for my full review.

Overall Impression
This was a pretty cool book that slowly eases you into its universe. While you do get right to the action, a lot of things don't become clear until you see the individual traveler's tales. Each story is unique, but linked to the mysterious nature of Hyperion. It's a clever way to reveal the world and each character's backstory.

The story revolves around the last pilgrimage to the Time Tombs of Hyperion amidst threats of an invasion. The Time Tombs are a mysterious relic that appears to move backwards in time and is guarded by the even more mysterious Shrike. These pilgrimages usually end with a wish granted to one of the pilgrims, whereas the others die. The Shrike Church has authorized seven specific people to undergo this pilgrimage for reasons of its own, yet the Hegemony of Man, the governing body of humankind, knows that a traitor is among them. Once the characters meet up, they agree to tell their stories so that together they can find out just what the Time Tombs and Shrike are all about, why they specifically where selected, and who among them is the traitor.

This framework storytelling style is very appealing as you get multiple stories as you read through the book. You have tales of adventure, horror, romance, detectives, and more as the characters narrate their experiences. It took me a while to read given my busy schedule, but I felt the pace was quite good. The ending was not what I expected at all, but I guess it emphasizes what the book is about.

There are seven main characters- the pilgrims, with a moderate number of supporting characters in the various stories. We have the poet Martin Silenus, the colonel Fedmahn Kassad, the detective Brawne Lamia, the scholar Sol Weintraub, the priest Lenar Hoyt, the Templar captain Het Masteen, and the consul, whose name is never directly stated but serves as the main point of view. Each of the characters feels distinct and their nature is revealed as they tell their stories.

Setting / World Building
The setting for Hyperion feels immense. Partly it's because you only learn about it in bits and pieces as you read the individual stories, but also because it really is quite intricate. The gist of it is that humanity has left Old Earth after it was destroyed and now live on many different worlds under the Hegemony of Man. Special doorways known as farcaster portals allow people to travel instantaneously from one planet to another in the WorldWeb. There are some colonies and protectorates beyond the Web, such as Hyperion itself, that can only be reached via spaceship travel and the subsequent time-dilation effects as ships travel close to the speed of light.

There are other factions, however,. Beyond the Web are the Ousters, a separate group of humans that threatens the planets of the WorldWeb. There's also the TechnoCore, which are made up of the independent artificial intelligences that help run farcasters in the Web, among other things. The interplay between these three factions help drive some of the over-arching conflicts that are glimpsed in several of the pilgrim's stories.

Finally, there are the mysteries of Hyperion: its labyrinth, the Time Tombs, and the Shrike. These are all really weird and a central part of the story. Each character has something that ties them to various aspects of Hyperion. I feel like we didn't get all the answers in this book, but what we got was very tantalizing.

Final Thoughts
This was an enjoyable read and, though I read it slowly, I thought about it often. The plot is simple, but engaging, the characters unique, and the setting very interesting. I know the subsequent books are very different in style, but given the ending of this book, I'll certainly have to check out them out.

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