Classic and interesting with a cheesy flair in parts, and extreme violence in others. Not overly technical as many books like this can be. There are fun pokes at society as we know it, as well as thought provoking concepts on morality, personality and the 'information age'. 4 stars due to slightly hap-handed sex scenes.
In Hyperion we follow seven pilgrims as they move towards the Shrike Temple on the planet Hyperion. Initially we know little of how the seven came together, why each of them is on a personal pilgrimage, and why the Shrike Temple is significant. As they journey, they agree to tell their own reasons for the pilgrimage, and thus we get a series of short stories, or vignettes, where we learn the background of each individual. And in doing so, we learn more of the universe in which they live. There is a bigger story here, a greater canvas on which these icons have been painted, but we only learn part of it - the rest is saved for the sequel - The Fall of Hyperion. [As an aside, there are four books in total - in addition to the two I have mentioned, we have Endymion and the Rise of Endymion. In reality, it is two pairs of books - the Endymion books are set 250 years later and with a mostly new cast, although knowledge of the earlier books vastly aids their enjoyment. Reading the Fall of Hyperion greatly adds to Hyperion itself, but you can stop there if you wish. Endymion is a new venture - albeit a fabulous one.] Dan Simmons writes with impressive clarity - while other authors hide behind jargon, Simmons keeps it real and in doing so gives you a clear visual image of his universe. And it is that writing style that makes this a light and pacy read, without losing any of the depth of content. As a stand alone book, this can seem a disjointed read, but still a worthwhile one. Viewed together with the sequels, it is a wonderful achievement, and one of the great sci-fi classics.
Hyperion is one of those books that has been on my to-read list forever. I'm now an Audible subscriber, so I took the opportunity to listen to the audiobook while hiking the Tour of Monte Rosa in September 2015. Is this classic work of science fiction worth your time? Here's my review.
At its best, I believe that science fiction should ask more questions than it answers. The purpose of SF is not to tell us what the future will look like; its purpose is to enchant us with possibilities, make us think about our purpose in the universe, and warp our preconceived notions of how things are. Hyperion asks many questions but provides very few answers. Who or what is the terrifying Shrike? And the Time Tombs, mysterious structures moving backwards in time, associated with the Shrike but understood by nobody – what do they signify? Will Hyperion fall under the assault of the Ouster battle fleet? Is Martin Silenus really hundreds of years old, born on Old Earth before the Hegira? Will the pilgrims making their way towards the Valley of the Time Tombs obtain what they desire, or will they end up impaled for eternity on the thorns of the Shrike's metal tree?
The story resonates with symbolism and enchantment. The structure – that of a frame story – is inspired by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and skilfully brings each of the pilgrims to life. They're all great characters, richly developed with their own tragic histories that, one by one, compel them to seek out the Shrike in the hope their wishes can be granted. The 19th century poet John Keats is another theme that recurs throughout the novel (one of the characters is even an AI-based 'cybrid' entity modelled on the persona of John Keats). The enigma of the Shrike and the Time Tombs provides a compelling undertone of mystery.
In many ways, Hyperion is fantasy rather than science fiction. I was strongly reminded of the work of Robert Holdstock – in particular Mythago Wood, which is similarly vibrant with mythology and unanswered questions.
The science fiction aspects of this book were less original and trod the well-worn path of a galactic human civilisation linked by starships and 'farcaster' portals enabling instant travel between distant points. There's also a nebulous outside threat (the 'Ousters', who seek to invade Hyperion and defeat the Hegemony of Man). The traditional sci-fi elements didn't impress me anywhere near as much as the mythological themes, but actually I think the sci-fi background is almost unimportant and merely provides a backdrop to the true story.
Time is another recurring theme. The Shrike is a fearsome demon sent from the distant future to wreak havoc, and the Time Tombs are travelling backwards in time and surrounded by anti-entropic fields. A subterranean Christian cathedral is discovered on Hyperion that appears to be 750,000 years old. One of the characters, Rachel Weintraub, contracts a temporal disease while studying the Time Tombs and begins to age in reverse. The 'time debt' accrued during FTL interstellar travel creates some interesting subplots too. These themes are not particularly original, but in combination with the ineffable sense of mystery and wonder woven throughout the book you have a winning combination.
The book ends on a cliffhanger. As I read other reviews I see that other readers didn't like that, but for me it felt like a natural ending – albeit one that immediately prompted me to buy all the sequels.
I'm normally the sort of reader who reads a book and either likes it or doesn't, then moves on to something else, rarely thinking about what I've just read. But I can't seem to stop thinking about the extraordinary events and questions in Hyperion. Elements of the story drift to the forefront of my thoughts at random times, and I find myself analysing and re-analysing interpretations of the mysteries, trying to figure out what's going on. I suspect that the symbolism goes even deeper than I give it credit.
In short, it's an incredible work of fantasy/science fiction, and I'm already enjoying the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion. If you like this kind of book then Hyperion is a must-read.
The Fall of Hyperion, or indeed the entire four books series, is probably the best sci-fi ever written. I cannot praise it enough. The stories, the people, the detail are all awe-inspiring. Thank you Dan Simmons for sharing Hyperion with us!
As a stand alone, I would give this 5 stars - mainly for the sheer inventiveness of the traveller's tales. But the decline to come in the other three books in the series is hinted at in what I felt was an unsatisfactory ending.