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Believe the hype: An Instant Modern Sci-fi Classic!,
This review is from: Ilium (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
You have heard the hype: a modern day retelling of Homer's The Iliad, set in a science fiction context. Your reaction: if he pulls it off, then Dan Simmons is an absolute legend. The result? Not only does Simmons pull it off, he delivers more than we deserve. You see, Dan Simmons is spoiling our socks off with his genius.
The gods of Greek Mythology have chosen to exist on a newly terraformed Mars. To pass the time, they have brought Homer's Iliad to life, featuring real warring Trojan and Greek armies. As a side-project, the gods have brought back scholars who specialise in Homer's epic poem, with the aim of recording how accurate Homer's account was to the real thing. Thomas Hockenberry is one such scholar, and he's been in the thick of it for nearly 9 years. Tired and jaded with the constant witnesses to carnage, along with the very real threat of being killed by his Muse at a whim, Hockenberry is close to throwing it in. But the gods have another plan for him, one which will throw Mount Olympos into utter chaos.
At the same time we have a consortium of 5 robots who are about to leave Jupiter for Mars. They are on a mission to investigate the strange happenings on Mars - the recent terraformation of the once red planet, and a disturbingly high number of quantum teleportation which might just tear a big enough hole in space to swallow the whole universe.
Having just finished the novel, I am still unable to get over the sheer ambitious act of creating a world where Greek Mythology walks hand in hand with quantum/nano-technology. But it is not just the originality of the idea that makes it so great; it is Simmons' delivery that adds to the "wow" factor. Simmons avoids "showing off" and making the myth/technology idea into a one-trick pony. Using it as his basis, Simmons carefully builds upon this idea into a full-blown epic of a tale. WIth such gigantic deals at stake, it is obvious that we will know what is going to happen: that we will see the full wrath of Zeus, god of all gods. But that doesn't matter: what matters is that Simmons places us into the thick of it and carefully guides us through the three seperate story lines of Ilium, and delivers us to a climatic cliff hanger.
Simmons' style is as reader friendly as ever. Having a very basic knowledge of Greek Mythology, Homer's original poem, and some Shakespeare (all coming from primary and juniour high school), I found I had no problems in picking out the various inter-textual references that Simmons throws into an already heady mix. Add to this the main theme of Ilium - the idea of fate and who is ultimately in control of it? - and you have a very smart novel.
This book will redefine space opera. It could've so easily been just another sci-fi/alternate history adventure (ala Eric Flint and Harry Turtledove). Instead, it upps the ante for all sci-fi novels with its sheer idiotic ambitiousness, and its ability to deliver on what it has promised. Ilium reads like it is part one of one big novel, rather than a seperate entity to an eventual follow up. But by the time you finish Ilium, you will be in so much awe of Simmons, that you will forgive him for leaving you half way of this literary roller coaster ride. Ilium brings to the science fiction genre much deserved respectability and recognition. In the midst of popcorn entertainment and overblown excesses within the genre (not that it is a bad thing) Ilium is truly a work that will win over the critics (of the literary kind as well) and the masses. Truly magnificent.