Hyperion

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.

13 responses

  1. Thanks for the review, interesting to note the re-read perspective. What are your thoughts on the making of the Hyperion Movie?

    1. Dubious, and concerned. I’m not convinced about capturing the scope of the books or the depths and complexities of the characters.

  2. […] Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding; Blake’s 7; Hyperion, Dan Simmons.  Tansy: Torchwood (non spoilery), Justice League comics (the new 52), The Business […]

  3. Oh no, they’re not making a film of it are they? Perhps if we’re really lucky, it might be as *good* as Dune.
    By the way, Alex, you write so lucidly. Wish I could write that well.

    1. Urgh, talk about faint praise – for a potential Hyperion movie I mean! I will cry if it’s like Dune… but I have little hope that it will be able to do the books justice.

      1. I really hope it’s not like Dune but it’s a very complex book which will be difficult to simplify for a film. Are they just doing Hyperion or the series? Whichever, a TV series would allow more depth.
        Must re-read the Hyperion books but it’s finding the time. Have you read anything else by Simmons?

        1. A mini-series could work, if they really want to do an adaptation. I have no idea whether this putative movie in only Hyperion and then hope to sequel it up with Fall of Hyperion, or quite what… I can well imagine squashing the two together and making it purely an action film, with none of the subtleties.

          I’ve also read Ilium and Olympos, which I adore beyond reason. I’m waiting to re-read the Endymion until my new copy of Rise arrives; I seem to remember being very dissatisfied with it, but I’ll do it anyway!

  4. Nice if I could spell as well. Ho hum.

  5. Although I agree a miniseries would be best, I think this needs a big budget, and miniseries don’t get those. I’m actually excited to see this turned into a movie, … if done right.

    Let the casting suggestions begin!

    Martin Silenus: definitely Jack Nickolson, especially the ancient Martin from the Endymion books.

    As for the other Endymion parts:
    – Jake Gyllenhaal as Raul Endymion: young, naieve, equal parts “bright eyed wonderer” and action hero
    – Dakota and Elle Fanning as Aenea: both the young, childlike and more mature Aenea can be represented by these siblings. Feels right.
    – Javier Bardem as Father DeSoya: an actor whose non-verbal presence is just as powerful in his tender, loving parts as it is in his violent, brutal parts
    – Doug Jones as A. Bettik: what can I say, the guy is the specialist in “almost-human” creatures
    – Edward Norton as father/pope Hoyt: talking about specialization, mister Norton has proven himself a master in the role of “kind/good/simple person turning violent/evil/unexpectedly smart (as shown in Primal Fear, The Score, Fight Club, American History X etc. etc.)

    … and the only directors capable of making such a complex story work in a visually attractive blockbuster are Peter Jackson or the Warshowski brothers. But I guess that ain’t gonna happen.

    1. … except they’re talking about making Hyperion. Not Endymion.

  6. I’ve read rumors about “them” wanting to compress all four novels in one or two movies, making the Endymion story the basic story, with the Hyperion stories as flashbacks/ background.

    No, of course that wouldn’t do justice to the complexity of the whole cantos. On the other hand, you’d have to admit, the Endymion story would be much more accessible as a movie, since it has clear protagonists and antagonists, something “they” assume movie audiences desire.

    I read Hyperion and Fall in the 90’s when I was in college, and totally loved them. I was surprised to stumble upon Endymion and Rise in a bookstore almost immediately finishing the first two novels, but I bought them without hesitation. They were brand new back then. When I came home, I felt the urge to check other people’s opinions about these books on amazon,com (something I usually do before buying any book). I remember feeling quite disappointed when I saw the very poor ratings that were initially given. Feeling that I’d waisted my money, and not wanting to spoil my fond memory of the first two novels, I decided not to read these new ones. It wasn’t until recently that I rediscovered them, having moved with me a couple of times, having changed places on various bookshelves. Now I’m reading them, almost fifteen years later.

    And I love them!

    It also feels that the years gone by in real life attribute to my appreciation of the story, in which over 200 years have passed. The events that took place before the Fall now have become the stuff of legends, both in the Endymion story, and in my own mind!

    Not that I would recommend anyone else waiting fifteen years before continuing the story ; )

    1. On the face of it I think Endymion probably would make a better movie or two, but I think you’d lose an enormous amount from the lack of Hyperion background, and I just can’t imagine them doing that justice. I really think this is another case of books better off not as movies. Or, a series with an HBO-style budget and aesthetic…

      I hadn’t re-read the series in a few years because I remember being very disappointed by Rises, although I don’t now remember why. I don’t actually own Rises – well, I’ve just bought it, so I’ll be re-reading these two when it finally arrives, and I’ll see whether I am disappointed again or not.

  7. When you’re re-reading them, let me know how you feel about my casting suggestions ; )

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