"The Fall of Hyperion," Dan Simmons

Pros: Fascinating story; engrossing characters; wonderful concepts; intricate world and plotting
Cons: Bogs down a little toward the end in one spot
Rating: 4 out of 5

First posted 10/29/2003

Recently I reviewed Hyperion, a science fiction novel by Dan Simmons. It was the first book in a series, and its tale is continued (and more or less concluded) in “The Fall of Hyperion.” In that first book we are introduced to humanity’s future: Earth has been destroyed, and humanity has been scattered in a web across the stars. Worlds are linked by farcaster portals, ships with Hawking drives, and a vast datasphere of information supported by artificial intelligences.

Humanity’s Web has been threatened, however. The Ousters, alien swarms, are attacking the outback world of Hyperion. The Time Tombs, odd artifacts that appear to be moving backward in time, are approaching the time when they will open. And the mysterious being tied to the Tombs, called the Shrike, the Avatar, or the Lord of Pain, has escalated its attacks on the populace of Hyperion.

“Hyperion” tells the tale of six men and one woman sent on one last pilgrimage to the Time Tombs by the Church of the Shrike. Each has his or her own reason for going, and a unique story behind that reason.

Where We Resume

In “The Fall of Hyperion,” the AIs have produced another persona based on the personality of Old Earth poet John Keats, and CEO Meina Gladstone of the Hegemony, for reasons she hasn’t disclosed to anyone, wants him around as she and the other government officials and military commanders discuss the upcoming Ouster Invasion, the Shrike problem, the opening of the Time Tombs, and Hyperion’s fate.

This new Keats persona, who calls himself Joseph Severn after the man who attended Keats as he lay dying, has been having unusual dreams lately–and these dreams seem to correspond to the experiences of the pilgrims on Hyperion. Through him, Gladstone is able to keep apprised of the progress of the pilgrimage. She seems to want more from him, though, gently pushing him in various directions yet never telling him what’s going on. And she isn’t the only one whose attention is focused on him. What part will he have to play in the unfolding pageant? What will happen when the pilgrims face the Shrike? And why have the AIs gone to such trouble to recreate a long-dead poet?

A Beautiful Read

I enjoyed “The Fall of Hyperion” almost as much as I enjoyed “Hyperion.” The characters are rich and full of life; they’re three-dimensional and fascinating. Most of them defy categories of “good guy” and “bad guy,” being instead flawed humans (or non-humans, as the case may be). The universe is fascinating and richly detailed, filled with exotic worlds, interesting technologies, well-thought-out societal changes, and more.

The plot in the first book was less philosophical and more action-oriented; here we dwell more in the mind of one man and learn more about the concepts behind the fascinating changes going on. It’s still complicated and intricate, however–once again, this isn’t light bedtime reading; it requires thought and attention. And if you thought there were surprises galore in the first book, its sequel won’t disappoint your desire for more.

“The Fall of Hyperion” does get more philosophical than “Hyperion” did. Although I certainly could make sense of the plot and follow what was going on, I did feel that I would have gotten more out of it if I had a better scientific background, a greater familiarity with Keats’ work, and perhaps a little background in theology.

There’s also one place toward the end where the pacing derails a bit. In the middle of the skyrocketing tension, a conversation between Severn/Keats and a koan-spouting AI slows things down to a crawl for a bit as some scientific and philosophical revelations unfold. It’s worth going through this part, however, to reach the fascinating and wonderful conclusion. And if you have a greater familiarity with the topics I mentioned earlier, you might also find this section much easier and more interesting to read than I did!

About the ending I will only say this. The trouble with building up such a high level of expectation as Simmons has is that there are two huge pitfalls authors tend to fall into in these situations. One is that the payoff cannot possibly live up to the buildup and feels anticlimactic and unsatisfactory (the reader ends up saying, “big deal. What was all the fuss about?”). The other is that the author is forced to not really end, answer, or reveal anything at all lest he fall into that first pitfall–thus, again, making the ending unsatisfying and anticlimactic. In my opinion Simmons delivers with a plot that lives up to its build-up and reveals enough to satisfy, but I can imagine that not everyone will feel the same way. I think “The Fall of Hyperion” rides those lines so delicately that it will garner a very individual response from reader to reader.

Although I did enjoy “Hyperion” a little more than its successor, “The Fall of Hyperion” was still a wonderful and fascinating read. Dan Simmons has a real talent for prose, running the gamut from a wry sense of humor to descriptions that make the reader shiver in delight or shudder in horror. Although there are two other books that I know of set in this universe (“Endymion” and “The Rise of Endymion”), this volume concludes in a satisfactory enough manner that you don’t need to buy the other two if you don’t want to. There are unresolved plot threads–if you like your endings tied up in a neat bow you’ll be frustrated–but then I always found this kind of ending more satisfying and realistic.

Standard warnings: blood, violence, sex.

Posted in Reviews

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