After reading Endymion I wavered as to whether to back it up with the concluding the series. On the one hand, so many other books to read! On the other hand, getting a conclusion (again)! On the gripping hand, I knew I had Issues with this book when I first read it, and I was worried…
Anyway, I did it. In fact, I stayed up rather late last night to finish it, because I really, really wanted to get to the end again.
Spoilers ahead for the first three books. Actually, spoilers for this book, too. What the hell.
Endymion concludes with Aenea, Raul and A. Bettik on Earth – somewhat miraculously – with Aenea giving mysterious hints about her and Raul’s futures, and Raul being all confused (again). This final volume of the Cantos finally clears up most of the mysteries that have plagued it, especially about who Aenea is and what she’s meant to be and do. Raul does some travelling alone, which is mostly filled with terror; he reunites with Aenea and has some non-terror time; then they travel together again, with bonus terror. Also, you know, the finally being adults together in the same place and time *waggles eyebrows*.
I do love this book. I do. But I have more problems with this volume than with any of the others.
1. It’s bloated. There are some sections with extensive lists that really could, and should have been cut down. Also, gratuitous descriptions that could have been pared.
2. Sex scenes that are… well. They’re not quite Bad Sex Awards prize-worthy, but they’re not great.
3. The whole idea of using Aenea’s blood as some sort of communion thing… made me very uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s that I’m Christian and I’m offended/annoyed by the appropriation. Perhaps it’s that the suggestion of her being a virus had been an aspect of the Pax/TechnoCore’s propaganda that seemed just that, so to have it accepted and perpetuated by Aenea herself was jarring. Also, surely there are other ways of sharing nano machines? And if it has to be via blood, does it have to be in this parody of an important and immensely symbolic ritual, when Aenea herself keeps on insisting that she is no messiah, let alone a god?
I do not have a problem with the multiple conclusions. It makes sense, actually, since Raul has been writing a memoir and then we, the reader, finally catch up with his life and get to experience what comes next alongside him. That feels ok.
I have no problem with Aenea dying. It was sad, for sure, and I don’t doubt others have had legitimate problems with it and its outcomes: perhaps that it seems a way of redeeming the men via a woman’s sacrifice, or that it was pointless – and they wouldn’t be wrong, I just don’t have the same reaction. I guess I can accept the idea of a willing sacrifice, especially when it has the (admittedly perhaps overblown) consequences that it does here.
I think my big annoyance last time I read this was the time-travel aspect right at the end. This time, partly because I knew it was coming, it didn’t trouble me. It does seem like a little bit of a cop-out, but it’s neat and it works ok. And it’s not like it completely changes things – Aenea is still dead, they all still have to carry on.
So. Overall, I do think this is one of my best-beloved SF series. Simmons creates great and believable characters, he does masterful world-building, he does clever things interrogating how humanity might interact with AI (which here really stands for Autonomous Intelligence, which I like) and how they might use androids and story-telling. He melds the evil of humanity (have I mentioned this is not an Alisa book? THIS IS NOT AN ALISA BOOK) with the glory and wonderful potential of humanity. It was worth re-reading.
I have a ludicrous number of books that I physically own but have not read.* Yet I have indeed indulged in some re-reading recently; specifically, the last two of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.
This post includes some spoilers for the first two books in the series.
Endymion begins nearly 300 years after the end of Fall of Hyperion, when the farcasters were destroyed, along with a number of planets, and various nefarious things had been revealed about the TechnoCore. Brawne Lamia was pregnant to the cybrid John Keats, all sorts of weird things seemed to be promised by the AIs, and the Shrike – the 3m-tall, made-of-metal, makes-the-Terminator-look-pathetic Shrike – was Up To No Good. And it opens with the accusation “You are reading this for the wrong reason.”
Choosing to reveal the end-point of your story at the start can be a risky business. Sure, pointing out that they’re “star-cross’d lovers” can make for that spine-tingly dread and anticipation that can sometimes be very enjoyable. But it can backfire, too, if you don’t care enough about the characters to want to know how they got there (cough, Romeo and Juliet). Here, we know that the narrator is under a death sentence, and that he has been the lover of someone thought of as a messiah. That’s… bold. He does also seem to verge on being a bit of a whinger.
Fortunately, things get better. The story itself is somewhat like Hyperion, in that it’s a journey story. Raul Endymion is tasked with finding and protecting a child, Aenea, which he does through fire and sand and the Shrike. He and she (and another friend) then proceed to travel to various worlds, learning about each other and their galaxy and getting a bit of a sense of what’s ahead of them. Simmons is good at describing new planets, and at making them varied; he has imagined enormous challenges for humanity in colonising different worlds, and knows that yes humanity probably would make a go of living on a planet much like the Arctic tundra, or a jungle, or a desert. Why not? We do here on this planet.
I’d read the book if that was all there was to it, as long as the characters and dialogue were intriguing enough. Raul is an entertaining enough narrator, with some really nice asides about the realities of being a hero (ie he’s not); Aenea acts too old for her age, but that’s explained by her experiences, I think. Simmons goes beyond the simple journey-narrative, though; he also gives the reader insight into some of the other characters, and here’s one of his master strokes: the man tasked to hunt Aenea is not portrayed as a monster. It would have been too easy to do that; after all, we’re meant to be entirely on her side, and against the Pax (on which, more below). Simmons, though, makes him sympathetic, so that while being appalled by some of his actions there’s a certain admiration for his tenacity, and sympathy for his trials. I like this aspect a lot; I’m largely impatient with straight-forward villainy these days.
The other really intriguing aspect of the Hyperion Cantos is the world-building, on the macro scale. In the first two books, most human worlds are under the Hegemony; connected by farcasters and communicating via the fatline (FTL, haha), accessing a datasphere thanks to the TechnoCore, and generally living the high life (well… if you’ve got the money. There is still poverty and misery on a massive scale). Here, not only has that ease of communication disappeared, but the Catholic Church has risen to immense importance once again thanks to one thing: the cruciform that Father Paul Dure discovered, which – once implanted – allows the bearer to be resurrected after death. Many, many times. This, not unnaturally, gets them a lot of converts. It also gets them a lot of temporal, not just spiritual, power (why yes, much like medieval Europe, now you mention it). Their dominion is known as the Pax.
This is one of the few books that I’ve read that seriously considers religion in a space-faring age (and not just Catholicism; there’s also Judaism, and Islam, and Buddhism, and new religions too. Protestants only get one mention, and it’s a fleeting one – “Protestant sects” – in the next book… which makes me sad). The hierarchy of the Church is unpleasant and there’s a lot of greed and ambition; but Simmons does also show priests and parishioners who are genuine in their faith, for which I am glad. Again, complexity; so much more intriguing than simplicity.
My love for this book is possibly somewhat unreasoning. Yes, I think it goes on a bit, and some of the Raul-Aenea bits are maybe indulgent. But I can’t read this with genuinely critical eyes; the Suck Fairy has not visited, so I’ve still got my initial rosy-coloured glasses in place from the first time I read it. LOVE.
*Ludicrous by my standards, and by the shelf space in my house. I understand that my physical TBR pile is laughable when compared with the entire bookcases of certain other people, not looking at anyone specifically, Alisa and Tansy.
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it, about whether it’s necessary to alert people to possible spoilers for works that are regarded as classics, or that are based on historical events. Someone was apparently complaining, over in the comments for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, about other commenters spoiling the story. I dunno; Pride and Prejudice has surely passed its statute of limitations on that sort of thing? And I do know of a man who was in Vietnam (as in, the country and the war) at the time of the Apollo 13 crisis, so when the movie came out, he didn’t actually know what happened – and initially thought it was fiction.
What about other historical events? A movie about Cleopatra? – she kills herself, spoiler! JFK? – the president dies! About WW2? – the Germans win!
Or other classics? Hamlet? – everybody dies! The Trojan War? – Hektor and Achilles die at Troy, while Agamemnon gets killed by his wife! (except that – what the HELL, Wolfgang Petersen? Seriously? What is Clytemnestra going to do now, live happily ever after with Aegisthus? You deprived yourself of making the Oresteia! Are you mad? I wanted Angelina Jolie for Clytemnestra, Helena Bonham Carter as Elektra, and Karl Urban as Orestes! Someone, make it happen…)
This line of thought has come about because I saw Argo last night, and my modern history is poor enough that actually, I wasn’t sure whether the hostages got out or not. I thought I knew, but wasn’t positive, and also wasn’t sure whether I wanted TO know before going in.
Overall, it’s a really wonderful film. Incredibly tense; my companion was anxious throughout the whole thing, because her modern history is worse than mine, apparently. I though the cinematography was just awesome and nicely done to feel genuinely early-80s. I’m not quite up enough on my rock history to be sure that all of the music was era-appropriate, but I was ridiculously pleased when they put on (actually put on, on a record player) Led Zeppelin (Levee’s Gonna Break, fwiw). I thought all of the actors were great, and Affleck was outstanding, even under all of that hair. During the credits, they brought up pictures of the actual people involved, to show that they had cast people (and, obviously, used good make up) to make the principles actually look like their person.
Except. And this is my one gripe.
Affleck’s character’s name is skated over, in the film. He goes by Kevin Harkins while in Iran; he does at one point tell someone that his name is Tony Mendez. I didn’t think much of it at the time. During the credits, there’s a shot of the real Mendez – Antonio Mendez. Yes, he would indeed be Latino. And Affleck certainly does not look Hispanic. So I really am disappointed that Affleck, who directed the film as well, didn’t have the balls to cast an Hispanic actor in the role, and take on a lesser role for himself; perhaps the section chief.
Also, I don’t know whether it was shot in Tehran (I’m going to go with ‘no’), but it certainly makes it look like a gorgeous city.