The Fall of Hyperion – Dan Simmons

“The core offered unity in unwitting subservience,” she said softly. “Safety in stagnation. Where are the revolutions in human thought and culture and action since the Hegira?”

“My God,” whispered Meina Gladstone…”I’m doing all of this on the strength of a dream.”

“Sometimes,” said General Morpugo, taking her hand, “dreams are all that separate us from the machines.”

When Hyperion leaves off, the Shrike Pilgrims are on their final approach to the Time Tombs. The Fall of Hyperion, however, begins light years away with the artist Joseph Severn being summoned to the presence of Meina Gladstone, the CEO of Mankind, ostensibly in order to draw official portraits; his real purpose is to advise the CEO about the pilgrims’ progress because he sees them in his dreams. The Time Tombs are opening, the Shrike is set loose, and the Ousters are approaching Hyperion, but the greatest threat to mankind an as-of-yet unforeseen catastrophe is descending on the hegemony. There are some irregularities caused by the Time Tombs, but, the entire story largely plays out over the course of a week.

At face value, The Fall of Hyperion has a more straightforward structure than its predecessor, but that is doing Simmons a disservice. Hyperion has a series of narrators, each telling their own story, while FoH has primarily one, Joseph Severn. (It is arguable that Severn, a genetic copy of the poet John Keats, is the narrator of the first novel, too, but that point is never addressed.) Severn tells his story in the first person, while the other sections of the story are in a cinematic third person that sprawls across the galaxy as the characters race to prevent total annihilation.

The Fall of Hyperion is not quite as tight as Hyperion, but is an immensely satisfactory conclusion to the this pair of novels (though I can’t vouch for how it fits with the pair of Endymion novels set in the same universe). That said, where the first was an absolute revelation of storytelling and world-building, FoH rushes ahead as one catastrophe after another tears threatens to destroy everything and all the characters are forced to fight for their lives. FoH continues to explore many of the issues that are raised in H, including human reliance on technology, the refusal to adapt to the environment, and sacrificing for greater good. There were times that it felt somewhat moralistic about all human failures, but this emerged more strongly because of its nature as a catastrophe story and did not necessarily detract.

I said in my post about Hyperion that I didn’t believe that the sequel was necessary to appreciate it, and that sentiment remains true. However, I do believe that the sequel lives up to the promises of the original, building on the issues and adding to them rather than falling flat. For anyone who appreciated the first, I unreservedly recommend the second; for anyone who hasn’t yet read the first, it is necessary before reading the second.

ΔΔΔ

Next up I am halfway through Italo Calvino’s novella Marcovaldo, a collection of short stories, each a fable of sorts following the title character’s ill-fated ambitions in a northern Italian city. After that I am torn on what to read. I had an impulse today to give War and Peace another shot or possibly to pick up Anna Karenina, but this time last year I got bogged down in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to read Don Quixote and may decide keep on with novellas or short novels by reading Camus’ The Plague instead.

Hyperion – Dan Simmons

My home has thirty-eight rooms on thirty-six worlds. No doors: the arched entrances are farcaster portals, a few opaqued with privacy curtains, most open to observation and entry. Each room has windows everywhere and at least two walls with portals. From the grand dining hall on Renaissance Vector, I can see the bronze skies and the verdigris towers of Keep Enable in the valley below my volcanic peak, and by turning my head I can look through the farcaster portal and across the expanse of white carpet in the formal living area to see the Edgar Allan Sea crash against the spires of Point Prospero on Nevermore. My library looks out on the glaciers and green skies of Nordholm while a walk of ten paces allows me to descend a short stairway to my tower study, a comfortable, open room encircled by polarized glass which offers a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of the highest peaks of the Kushpat Karakoram, a mountain range two thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.

Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel Hyperion won the Hugo award for best science fiction novel of that year, and with good reason. In the distant future and on the brink of the apocalypse for the human race, a misfit band of seven pilgrims (and a baby) makes its way to the planet Hyperion to visit the mysterious creature the Shrike–known as the Lord of Pain to the interstellar church dedicated to it. The trip itself is uneventful and the route largely deserted since most people on Hyperion are trying to escape the collision course between the Shrike, the Hegemony of Man, and the Ousters set for the planet. This is to be the final pilgrimage.

Without other distractions, the pilgrims choose to tell each other their stories, which are recorded by the Consul, a mysterious career diplomat who once oversaw Hyperion for the Hegemony. One by one they spin out their stories, a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar (and father), an investigator, and a diplomat, all revealing their connections to the Shrike, their secrets, and, ultimately, what they hope to accomplish on the trip. There is action and adventure without being an a&a story, family without being a family story, origins without being an origin story, love without being a love story, and religion without being a religious story. Of course, it is all of those. These stories-within-the-story span the planets occupied by human beings since the “hegira” away from earth and the centuries since the exodus took place. Hyperion, the planet that seems fated to be the site of the apocalypse, is an out of the way world settled by the Sad King Billy with the dream of turning it into a artistic paradise that has since become a ramshackle backwater.

Remarkably, each of the sub-stories subtly shifts the presentation toward the tenor of the new narrator’s account. Taken together, the stories form a collage of human civilization across the Worldweb, the planets linked by farcaster portals (portals that don’t require weeks of travel and years of time-debt to travel between worlds), which mimics human society on earth just with better technology.

It is often said that science fiction and fantasy are genres of ideas, and Hyperion has those to spare, but what set it apart is how visually stunning the novel is. Simmons is over the top when it comes to his descriptive prose and allusive names, but once, I settled into the style, the descriptions became increasingly affecting and, in turn, gave new vividness to the sub-stories. The quote that opened this review is one example of how this worked without giving away anything of the plot. The speaker at the time goes further to note the challenge of adjusting to such a house since each individual room had a different level –and sometimes orientation– of gravity. Hyperion is a deeply moving account of traveling companions telling each other tales as the worlds come crashing down behind them, which adds to the surreality and beauty of story. This is one I can say without reservation I highly recommend.

ΔΔΔ

I don’t know what I am going to read next in part because I am probably going to a bookstore later today and want to leave my options open. Instead of a novel, last night I started reading M.I. Rostovtzeff’s 1932 book Caravan Cities about the social and economic history of cities located along caravan routes in the Middle East during the Hellenistic Period. Thus far it is interesting, but both less well cited and less pithy than his Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World.