Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hyperion - A New Classic

Dan Simmons' Hyperion may be the best sci-fi book I've read in the last five years.  It tells the story of seven pilgrimages who desire to see the mysterious Shrike.  He (or it) is the spiky metallic personage on the book cover.  Nobody knows exactly what the Shrike does other than killing people.

When I first started reading the book, I was concerned that this was going to be a sci-fi book turned fantasy, because they start in space, and they head towards this planet, and the book cover looks like a typical fantasy cover.  The last thing I wanted was for the characters to get stuck on a boring planet.

Another concern arose when I got about twenty pages in and the seven pilgrimages made the decision to tell their life stories.  The priest got to go first.  I looked ahead and saw that his story went on and on and on for at least 80 pages, and then came the end of Chapter 1.  I groaned, not wanting to read a boring John-Galt-like treatise on religion in space.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover my concerns were unfounded.

The format of the entire book is isomorphic to the graphic novel Watchmen.  The story is told in the present as well as in the past.  A vast majority of the book consists of the recollections of each of the main characters.  The story that each character has to tell is amazing.  And with each story, the reader learns important information regarding the story of the present, and even information explaining what had occurred in other people's stories.

This technique is effective when done well.  As you not only get to really know each character individually, but you get an amazing and complex story as well.  The result is Hyperion, a very rich and compelling story.

This book counts as Hard SF, yet it is very light on the dry factor.  Fantasy SF fans may forget that they're reading Hard SF.

Simmons somehow puts everything you can imagine into this one book, and he makes it all work: space battles, action, horror, religion, philosophy, artificial intelligence, mystery, romance, the desire of getting published (yes Stephen King fans--that's in there, too), politics, and stuff that jerks tears.

It also contains some adult material, so I would classify it at a low-grade Rated R.  It contains a few F-bombs, but Simmons is one of the few authors who knows how to use them sparingly and correctly, and I did not find them to be distracting.

If I must complain about anything, it would have to be the little things.  The main character, the Consul, is never named.  There's a reason for that, but it really comes down to "because the author wants it to be that way."  There's also an epilogue that only exists "because the author wants it to be that way."  I can see why Simmons did that, but it didn't do anything for me.

But that's okay, as Simmons delivered a reading experience that I will remember forever.

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