Seven hundred years in the future mankind is dispersed throughout the galaxy. Old Earth is long gone, the victim of an unfortunate incident involving a miniature black hole. The core of the Hegemony, the government of most of humanity, consists of the WorldWeb; planets that are connected by instantaneous transportation devices called farcasters. Planets that are not yet connected by farcaster must be reached by starship. Although most starships are equipped with faster-than-light Hawking
The story centers around the colonial planet of Hyperion; a backwater world outside of the WorldWeb. The planet is well known for the mysterious “Time Tombs” that are surrounded by an anti-entropic force field (which actually causes the Time Tombs to move backward through time) and the creature known as the Shrike. The Shrike is a horrifying four-armed monstrosity that has glowing crystalline eyes and is covered in metallic blades and thorns. The Shrike has been limited to the area immediately around the Time Tombs for centuries but has recently begun to range farther and farther from them. The creature is worshiped by the powerful Church of the Shrike, which believes that the Shrike will be instrumental in the end of mankind. Until recently the Church had sponsored pilgrimages to the Time Tombs. Many of these pilgrimages ended without any survivors. With the Shrike’s newfound mobility indicating that it may finally begin the Apocalypse, the pilgrimage that comprises most of the book may very well be the last.
Unlike prior pilgrimages, none of the current group of seven pilgrims is a member of the Shrike Church, although all have some connection to Hyperion or to the Shrike. Like the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, each pilgrim tells his or her story. The stories are what make Hyperion really interesting. Some are told in the first person while others are told in the third person. One is told as a series of journal entries while another is told according to a person’s stream of consciousness. Some of the stories are filled with action, a couple are more horrific, and a couple are heartbreaking. The motive and character of each pilgrim is exposed as his or her story is told. The stories build on each other, gradually revealing more and more about the nature of the Hegemony and about the role of Hyperion and the Shrike in the fate of humanity. Also revealed is the basic relationship that humanity has with the highly evolved artificial intelligences (AIs) that form the TechnoCore. Once slaves to humanity, the AIs of the Core declared independence centuries before the opening of Hyperion, declaring themselves as allies and friends to the Hegemony of Man instead. At least that’s what the AIs claim. There are factions within the Core that see humanity as a parasite and a distraction from their goal of developing an Ultimate Intelligence; effectively a deus ex machina.
In addition to the Shrike, the Hegemony now finds itself threatened by the Ousters; a lost branch of mankind. As humanity left the doomed Earth for other inhabitable worlds, the Ousters refused to be dependent on the Core’s technology, choosing to cut their ties with the rest of mankind and to dwell between the stars in vast fleets. The Ousters particularly abhor the Core-controlled farcaster system.
The story is grand in its scope and Simmons’ worldbuilding is some of the best I’ve encountered. To top it off, Simmons doesn’t forget to give the reader a cast of interesting, fully fleshed out people. I’ve read too many science fiction novels written by authors that were so fascinated by the fictional worlds they created that they forgot to give us a plot or characters that we’ll care about.
The Fall of Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion is narrated very differently and has a broader focus than Hyperion. The viewpoint character is a “cybrid”; a being whose body is fully human but whose intelligence is an AI that is shared between its body and the Core. This particular cybrid, a replica of the 19th century poet John Keats, has the ability to dream events happening elsewhere. It is through these dreams that we find out what’s happening to the pilgrims featured in the first novel. Although the pilgrims’ experiences continue to be an important part of the story, much of the novel’s focus is on the organization of Hegemony itself, the conflict between the factions within the Core, and the invasion by the Ousters.
Many of the mysteries and apparent contradictions introduced in the first novel are explained in this book. After the buildup that the Shrike received in Hyperion I had been certain that it would be impossible for Dan Simmons to reveal its origin and purpose without disappointing the reader. Not only was I not disappointed, but the truth behind the creature turned out to be even more interesting than I thought it could be. Even after we know what the Shrike is, the creature loses none of its menace.
The Fall of Hyperion is even more epic in its scope than Hyperion. The story is about nothing less than the destruction of worlds, the clash of gods, and the fate of humanity. Despite this, Simmons gives us a great cast of complex, believable characters. I love a story with a noble protagonist and Simmons’ books gives us several. I have a soft spot for characters who choose to face certain death because of loyalty and friendship.
Hyperion Cantos illustrates Dan Simmons’ talent for prose. His writing is perfectly balanced between the bare-bones simplicity of an Orson Scott Card and the over-abundant descriptiveness of a Greg Bear. While I enjoy Card’s writing, I feel that Bear’s approach meanders too much from the plot and the characters. Although the worlds that Simmons has created, Hyperion’s Valley of the Time Tombs, and the Shrike are all lovingly detailed, it’s never to the point of distraction. Thanks to the grand scale of his stories and his writing style, I will definitely be seeking out more of Simmons’ novels, especially the final two books of the Hyperion saga: Endymion and The Rise of Endymion.