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.