Review: Hyperion (The Hyperion Cantos, #1) by Dan Simmons

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: April 30 to May 8, 2014
Read Count: 1 time all the way through; Martin Silenus’[1], Sol Weintraub’s, and the Consul’s chapters several times

Everyone going into this book should know it’s Part 1 of a 2-part tale, and this part ends abruptly.

If you know a lot of classic or canonical literature, you’d recognize the subtle and not so subtle nods to famous dead authors and artists scattered, not without purpose, throughout this book. And if you’re not familiar with the classics, not a problem. You can always Google them afterward. Never having read John Keats or John Muir or the Talmud or know the ethics of ecology by heart wouldn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of this book.

The Hyperion pilgrimage/adventure starts out with seven strangers chosen specifically for a mission that’s a matter of life and death. These seven individuals are to go to the planet Hyperion and journey deep into its depths in search of the Valley of the Time Tombs[2]. Once there, the group is supposed to petition the Shrike, a terrifying legendary creature responsible for countless deaths, but it isn’t as mindless or unreasonable as legends say. It’s believed the creature, after listening to each person’s story, would grant a wish to just one person and then it would kill the rest. See? Not completely mindless or unreasonable.

Before reaching Hyperion, the group decides to share their tales during the journey to better understand one another or perhaps to know what to expect from one another once they meet the Shrike. This is the point in which the story becomes stories within a story[3]. Each one builds upon the previous, and each containing a unique piece of the Shrike mystery.

One more thing. Among the seven strangers, one is a double agent who might or might not be working for the Shrike. Can you spot him or her before the group reaches the Valley? Also, the tales these characters weave are not necessarily based on any truth. They could just be making things up on the fly and none would be the wiser, but readers might figure it out before the big reveal. This is where your knowledge of literary trivia comes into play.

The storytellers are:

Father Lenar Hoyt, a sickly Catholic priest whose story is another story within a story about another priest’s experience on Hyperion, basically an homage to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness [4]

Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a former military personnel better known as a merciless slaughterer; from a young age he’s been given a unique “gift,” a connection to the Shrike

Martin Silenus, an angry bitter poet who, in the tradition of poets before him, lived a turbulent life of excess and few regrets; he too has a special connection to the Shrike

Sol Weintraub, a historian and philosopher desperately seeking answers and/or a cure for a time-related affliction–not unlike Benjamin Button

Brawne Lamia, a hardboiled private detective and somewhat unusual homage to the noir days of Hammett and Chandler

the Consul, a politician burdened by the weight of his lineage and past, who seeks whatever answers that might be found in the Time Tombs

Het Masteen, a Templar and captain of the treeship Yggdrasill; still a mystery in this first half of the Hyperion adventure

And the adventure continues to be fraught with mystery and doubt.

[1] Because it’s hilarious.
[2] Which I will never not read as “Time Bombs”
[3] “Frame story” is what this literary technique is called. Famous examples include: One Thousand and One Nights, Chaucer’s Canterbury TalesFrankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Interview with the VampireThe Princess Bride, Cloud Atlas, and many more
[4] Another famous frame story

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

A few thoughts and reflections:

The reason I had to reread the Silenus‘ story several times is because it’s hilarious and borders on metafiction. Dan Simmons makes many on point comments about writing fiction for oneself vs. writing for the entertainment of the masses (and/or to appease a publisher). Being a writer of “pulp fiction,” I imagine Simmons must have struggled against industry people and “standards” early on in his career, and he must’ve had to conform to them all the while resenting them. Silenus’ story must be his big F-U to it all. Even in the 28th Century, assuming technology has advanced so much that books are streamed directly into people’s minds at the moment of publication, writers are still subjected to outrageous demands and inquiries from the industry. The characterization of Tyrena Wingreen-Feif must be a composite of all the obnoxious agents, editors, and publishers Simmons has ever met.

Of all the stories, I found Weintraub‘s most haunting. No other comment necessary. You have to read it for yourself.

The story I haven’t quite grasp is the Consul‘s tale. It’s also haunting, but I suppose I find all time-travel tales of love and loss haunting.

Of all the stories, I found Hoyt‘s account of Paul Dure’s story most disturbing. Its similarities to actual colonial accounts written by missionaries intent on demolishing whole continents, cultures and peoples all intact, are disturbing to me. You know, that self-righteous attitude that inspired vows to “bring light to dark continents” and all that other holy savior complex. They’re unsettling to me, more so than outright violence. Dure’s impressions and interpretations of the Bikura people stayed with me long after I finished the book, but what I found most difficult to digest was not the subjects of Dure’s study but his attitudes toward “his subjects” and his treatment of their secret holy shrine. It’s somewhat along the line of how dare these primitive people keep such a treasure from me? I must get to it at all cost and expose to the whole universe and make myself famous while saving my own religion and taking credit for all of it, all at the expense of these idiotic people. Oh, what do they know. They’re imbeciles. Not that different from actual accounts from colonial missionaries’ diaries.

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