BOOK REVIEW: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

hyperion.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: The Hyperion Cantos (#1)

Genre: Space Opera/Literary SF

Pages: 473

Publication Date: 1989

Verdict: 4/5

Seven pilgrims make their way to ancient Hyperion, to confront the dreaded Shrike and the Time Tombs. But what drives them on, and what will drive them apart?

Hyperion is a novel that wears its influences proudly, like medals on its sizable chest. The comparisons with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are not only earned, they are invited. The framing narrative of a group of unlikely pilgrims embarking on a long journey is a simple one, at least on the face of it, and serves its purpose well. because the focus of Hyperion is not the overarching story, but the tales those pilgrims have to tell along the way. In many ways, it’s more an anthology than a novel. And that means it has an anthology’s main problem: Gather enough stories, and they won’t all be winners.

‘The Scholar’s Tale’ and ‘The Priest’s Tale’ are my personal favourites. The former is a story of scientific investigation, as a lone priest tries to uncover the truth of a primitive tribe. Of all the stories, this feels the most pulp-ish, and would not be out of place in a Forties magazine. The latter story tells of a child aging backwards due to an encounter with time-warping energies. Time travel stories are almost always interesting, and this is no exception. It’s also the most tragic of the stories, and the better for it.

Unfortunately ‘The Poet’s Tale’ is a far weaker affair. There are few things that interest me less than writers writing about writers, and this is a prime example of why. The indulgences are self-aware, full of knowing winks to the reader, but that makes them no less annoying. For all Silenius’ sins as a writer and poet, and his tale is full of them, by far his worst crime is how boring he is.

The other half of the stories are decent, if not spectacular, recounting adventures among the stars, the realities of wars fought across time and space, and even a noir-ish detective story. It’s hard to see them all existing within the same continuity, to be honest. But that’s part of the point with these stories, isn’t it? Not knowing whether the author is being truthful, or if they even know what the truth is. It’s a literary tradition as old as time.

And that’s the source of so much of my dissatisfaction with the book. Every time it feels like there is forward momentum, that the plot is finally moving, I’m thrown out as Simmons pulls the rug from under my feet. This is a very literary book, seeming to revel in its own smugness. I get the references, and I can see a lot of what Simmons is doing, but it doesn’t make for a terribly enjoyable read.

Which is a shame, because the overall story is a strong one. I would love to see more of the Hyperion universe. I want to know more about the Shrike, and the Hegemony, and the Ousters and the Time Tombs. There’s a whole world waiting to be explored, and I will gladly read the next installment in the hope that exploration does indeed occur.

Overall, this is a book with a lot of promise. Sadly, those promises are not fulfilled here, but the world is vast and intriguing enough to merit further reading.

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