When I reviewed Hyperion, this book's prequel, I called it the best book I had ever read. I had not, then, read this book. When I finished this book, it became the best book I had ever read (having subsequently finished the sequence, I have to say that the last book is better, but more of that in a more relevant review).
Hyperion was a book which promised. It was, in a way, entirely introduction. The Fall of Hyperion more than delivers; perfectly paced to build the desperation of the most serious cataclysm to befall the race of mankind in centuries. Simmons demonstrates again his mastery of tone and style to balance somewhere between four and eight stories.
A word of warning, though; if you come to this book expecting the parcelled-up, linear neatness of Hyperion, you are going to be severely put off. Remember that very little actually happens in Hyperion; our pilgrims take various methods of transport across a planet and almost reach where they're going, telling a few stories on the way; that's about it (yes, those stories are brilliant etc. etc., but they aren't part of the *plot* of the novel in the strictest sense). This allowed Simmons to parcel his stories up very neatly indeed.
The same is not true of Fall; where Hyperion was a work of great, visionary talent, Fall has a little more in the way of spontaneous genius. It is hectic, complicated, and distinctly unclear; when the over-arching plot is the fall of mankind's greatest civilisation, as experienced by a dying poet who has to experience eight or nine lives at once, the story is not going to be linear. Nor does Dan Simmons apologise for this; he boldly goes where no author has gone before, and only on repeat readings can one sense the structure underlying the story.
However, the madness of the story - and I will not mince words; Simmons' ideas often seem the product of idiocy or madness, particularly out of context - does slowly reveal itself to be nothing more than an accurate presentation of what life would be like in those circumstances. More importantly, all the best moments - particularly around the emotional climax of the book (no details given, except that it's pretty much right slap bang in the middle of the book and you'll know it when you hit it) - are given enough linear build-up to make their impact indelible.
The Fall of Hyperion is most definitely a book which rewards repeat readings; Dan Simmons changes his own philosophical and even scientific laws time and time again throughout the book, pulls the rug out from under his readers masterfully, without disrupting our progress through the story. It's hard to keep up with. It's even harder to understand. It's near impossible to stop yourself being blown away regularly - towards the end of the book, it seems like every third chapter, there is some mind-blowing revelation about the nature of the universe.
This is no mere sequel to Hyperion; it would be more accurate to say that Hyperion is a prequel to this book. Don't expect another Hyperion; The Fall of Hyperion is the story for which Hyperion is the introduction and user's guide. Yes, it isn't perfect, and yes, it certainly doesn't give all the answers (which is possibly its greatest strength), but it is a fascinating read, and there is enough symbolism and philosophy to keep anybody interested long past the first reading. If you don't come looking for easy answers and easy reading, I defy you not to love this book.