This is my second time reading this book, and happily it was as wonderful and intriguing this time as the first. Of course, I am older and at least a little more knowledgeable this time, so I think I’m actually getting more out of it.
Firstly let me admit to my own blindness the first time I read it: I don’t think I picked up on the resonances with The Canterbury Tales, which is just embarrassing… although at that stage I’m not sure I’d read any of that poem, so perhaps that excuses me slightly! But still, the pilgrims’ stories are each labelled as such, so you would think that I would have picked up on it. But no. There is also – and I guess this is really only obvious right at the very end, but it doesn’t spoil the story – a bizarrely amusing parallel to The Wizard of Oz.
This is is a story set in the 28th century AD, when Earth is no more and humanity has spread to the near reaches of the stars in the Hegira. Multiple planets have been colonised, technology has advanced, there are sentient AIs… and there are still divisions, squabbles, and politics. Sad, but tragically believable. The plot itself revolves around seven pilgrims who have been chosen to visit the Time Tombs at a time of war between the Hegemony – to which most planets belong – and the Ousters, a renegade human faction. The Time Tombs are on Hyperion, they are protected by a terrifying something called the Shrike, and it all goes from there.
Fascinatingly enough, most of the book itself is not taken up with the pilgrimage. Instead, in the spirit of Chaucer, the pilgrims share their stories with each other in an effort to understand both why they have each been chosen and what might happen when they are arrive. Their stories are very different – a military officer, a diplomat, a private investigator, an academic, a Catholic priest, a spaceship captain, and a poet – but they all have common elements of pain and loss and tragedy. And a connection to Hyperion.
I love the different elements that Simmons combines in this book, through the device of the background stories being told through a deliberate and completely plot-appropritate info-dump. I love the mystery of Hyperion, I love the mix of characters, I am enthralled by the diversity of world tied to a somewhat pessimistic view of humanity itself. One of the things that I really love about the book is its exploration of religion and its place in this future. The first story is that told by Father Hoyt, the priest, and it deals very honestly with the issues that do and will face the Church in confronting technological change and everything else the future promises. I appreciate that he imagines a place for such faith, even in a dwindling and sometimes confused manner. And the academic, Sol, is Jewish, and his story ties in many elements and ideas of Judaism. I hope that a Jewish person reading it would have the same reaction to his portrayal as I did to Hoyt (although I am not Catholic). As well as these Old Earth religious hangovers, Simmons also imagines a plethora of brand-new religions based on all sorts of different things. Which is cool.
I am a bit sad that there is only one female pilgrim amongst the seven. Simmons does imagine an improvement in gender relations overall; the CEO of the Hegemony is female, there are female soldiers, etc. He also does not imagine an entirely Anglo future, either; I don’t know whether the pilgrims are ever described in terms of skin tone, although a few of them are described as ‘paling’ and other such giveaways. But many of the worlds have non-Anglo names and predominant cultures. I think his idea of the great Hegira is that humans will have colonised in like-cultural groups, as a number of SF writers have prophesied, and I guess I see the sense in that. But with the ‘farcasting’ technology of the Hegemony, people are able to move around even more easily amongst these planets than we currently do on Earth, so there is a great deal of intermingling.
The other really clever aspect to Hyperion is its connection to the poet John Keats. Hyperion was a Titan of Greek mythology, is a moon of Saturn, and an abandoned poem of Keats’ about the Titans. He tried again with “Fall of Hyperion,” which is also the name of this Hyperion’s sequel. There are nods to Keats in a number of the stories, and I’m sure I missed a few of them. I loved this idea of incorporating a 19th-century poet into a story set a millennium after his death.
I have a lot of books for review on my shelf at the moment, so I haven’t decided whether to read the sequel yet… heh. Who am I kidding.
The Discovery of Blake’s 7 (complete with spoilers)
I didn’t get to see all of this episode because the disc was a bit broked and kept skipping. I saw most of Blake and Cally going to convince an ex-president of a non-Federatation planet that he ought to return to his planet and stop it being subsumed by the Feds, and I saw that the Liberator was under possible attack… but I had no idea by whom until quite near the end. I had thought Zen the computer was acting very strangely and that we were about to find out more about the shifty AI! But no. Sigh. It was just ordinary run of the mill space pirates.
I am enjoying Blake and Cally working together. Her telepathy is of course an enormous boon, and presumably is one of the reasons she is so often used on missions requiring scouting etc – not that she can ‘hear’ guards or anything, but she can warn Blake when they are near. As well as that, though, she is resourceful and good at fighting. Of the other characters, Vila is a coward and Gan has the limiter chip and Avon is still not entirely trustworthy and Jenna has to fly the ship, so she’s a good choice for all of those reasons too. And there’s no flirtation. In this episode, I enjoyed their interaction with the ex-president, too, especially his infatuation with mid-20th-century Earth stuff. It’s a neat little device used to show how weird things we take for granted today might seem in the future; Blake’s reaction to an automobile was priceless.
Overall this is a fairly by-the-numbers episode I think. It shows how tricksy and sly the Federation can be in getting other planets under its sway, it shows how resourceful the crew is… but that’s about it.
It had to happen at some stage, I suppose. Avon being mistaken for a god, that is.
I think I’m beginning to figure out the general format for this show, and it often involves two parallel plots. With a crew of seven – even if one of them is constrained to the ship (I presume!) by virtue of being its computer, there are a limited number of plots that genuinely utilises every single one of them in a one-track story. So, two plots. In this case, after watching a spaceship ditch on a planet, the crew rescues one survivor and transports him back to the Liberator… while losing Jenna at the same time. So Blake and Cally stay on the ship, looking after the survivor and then being held hostage by him as he forces them to redirect the Liberator onto the course he had previously been following.
Meanwhile, on the planet, Vila, Gan and Avon are searching for Jenna, who has been kidnapped by a bunch of savages; the boys are saved by a mysterious woman in a cave who, naturally enough, greets Avon as a god. They manage to rescue Jenna and help out the mysterious woman, who is somehow part of a group of people who had been waiting for someone with just Avon’s talents to help them launch their own spaceship, packed with frozen embryos and seeds, towards a planet some 500-odd years away. Totally makes sense in context.
Once again it’s Avon who gets to be the most complex and interesting in this episode. For a start, his determination to save Jenna is a bit surprising – he has seemed mostly callous towards all of them previously – and is an indication that perhaps finally he is starting to feel some companionship towards the others. Mostly, though, it’s in how he treats his apparently divinity. Of course he makes light of it at times, and of course at other times there’s a glint in his eye that suggests he could get used to that sort of thing. But he does not, actually, take advantage of it at all. Instead he does exactly what the woman asks, fulfilling the prophecy and her dreams. It shows him to be a remarkably… moral, I guess, and peculiarly honest man. And there’s a wonderful exchange with Blake towards the end, where Blake asks him in an amused tone what he thought of being regarded as a god, and Avon asks back – somewhat archly, somewhat sarcastically – “Don’t you know?” or words to that effect. Blake looks at him, and acknowledges his point, and admits that he doesn’t much like it either.
So there’s one episode left in this series, and of course it’s on the next disc, so I hope Bigpond hurries up and sends it to me. I’m wildly excited to find out whether this is the sort of series that goes in for cliffhangers.