Thursday, May 21, 2015

REVIEW: The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Publication Year: 1990
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Hyperion Cantos #2, My Goodreads Review of Book One
Awards:Won the Locus (1991) and British Science Fiction Awards (1992), Nominated for the Hugo (1991 - beat out by one of my other favorite authors) and Nebula (1990)
Format: Paperback I own
Narrator: NA

The first book in this four book series, Hyperion, blew me away back when I read it in 2009.  It was easily a five star read and though I didn't make top-ten-favorites-of-the-year lists back then, it is a very fair bet it would have been on such a list.  It likely would even be on my top ten science fiction novels of all time.  What I'm saying is, I loved that book with its Canterbury Tale type storytelling and yet I somehow let 6 years pass before picking up book two.  SIX years.  I think I had a little trouble getting my hands on book two and by the time I did, my fervor for Hyperion had dulled a bit and I heard that the other books in the series weren't as good.  And apparently time flies.

So how did this book stack up to Hyperion?  It wasn't as good BUT it was still very very good.  I'm also not sure it's fair to compare them because this is a very different book from book one.  In that book the reader meets a group of travelers who have been specially chosen to participate in a pilgrimage to confront? encounter? stop? a creature known as the Shrike.  He's the big metal spiky guy on the cover above.  He's an enigmatic entity but all of the pilgrims have encountered it before and book one is basically a round table where each of them, in turn, tells their shrike story and why they have accepted the invitation to pilgrimage.

Book 2, The Fall of Hyperion starts just as the pilgrims arrive on the planet of Hyperion where the shrike resides.  We are not at first with the pilgrims however.  We instead are inside the perspective of Joseph Severn, a cybrid (part human, part machine) with the personae of John Keats (yup the famous poet) who has the unusual ability to be able to see, to the point of almost experiencing, what is happening with the pilgrims.  Because of this ability he has been summoned by Meina Gladstone, Prime Minister of the universe - at least all the humans and their many planetary colonies.  Right off the bat it is clear this book is going to operate at a much larger scale than Hyperion and boy howdy does it. In fact I found the scope of the book downright mind boggling.  This book tackles nothing less then the fate of all humankind in the universe and wars between gods. So. No big. 

I've got to be honest I frequently felt like I had no idea what was going on. Part of that was my own fault for not reading this as soon as I finished Hyperion or at least within a year.  Be warned - don't dawdle!  The other part of the confusion is that this is a staggeringly complex book at least for my feeble brain and Simmons seems to be an author that doesn't use a lot of obvious exposition, preferring things to be revealed organically.  It takes a little work on the reader's part.  When all is revealed, it is a surprisingly common trope driving the action but it doesn't feel mundane or common.  The world developed is very detailed, complex and represents a frighteningly plausible far future. 

I am more of a Fantasy fan than Science Fiction and I think I like these books so much because they have a lot of shared elements with fantasy.  Oh, there's plenty of whiz-bangery technology hooha but there's also a quest, political maneuvering, warring gods, time travel and poetry.  There are even "prophecies", determined using complex mathematical probabilities of course, but prophecies nonetheless.  The characters also feel very real.  I very much liked the addition of Meina Gladstone, whose mission and the choices she must make made for a very interesting character indeed.  My only complaint about the characters is that there are so many of them you don't get to spend enough time with any of them.

Another thing I really appreciated which may be very personal, is that I got a real environmentalist message from the book.  Humans have taken over the universe and destroyed much of it with their greedy consumption and desire for pleasure.  Technology has made it very easy for humans to have what they want and almost instantly.  In the end it is their undoing.  Not a happy message certainly but the book does end on a note of hope. 

So why 4 stars instead of 5?  Hyperion worked so well for me because of the very personal stories set in a far future society that was very different but recognizable.  The astronomical expansion of the scope of this book didn't work as well for me and in fact it took a while for me to really get into the story (though again part of the fault here was confusion as a result of a too long interval between reading books 1 and 2).  The device of seeing what is happening with the pilgrims through Joseph Severn's dreams also felt like a clunky device to me and it wasn't until this structure was essentially dropped, that the story really started to flow.  It was definitely worth sticking with the book through what I found to be a slow start but ultimately it wasn't quite a perfect reading experience. 

FINAL VERDICT:  This is an intricate and complex tale of humankind's destruction in a far flung future which combines all the best elements of Sci fi and Fantasy.  Definitely recommend.  4 out of 5 stars.

Read Harder #12 - A Sci-Fi Novel
#8  - Sci Fi set in Space

Yup.  It took me so long to read I added to my 100 Books Project List.

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