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Monday, January 12, 2009

Fall of Hyperion

Fall of Hyperion

by Dan Simmons

(3/5 stars)

I was trying to think of a good sci-fi related way to compare my disappointment with "Fall of Hyperion" compared to the original "Hyperion." To use a popular culture example, it reminded me of when I watched "The Matrix Reloaded." I really enjoyed the first movie and as I watched the sequel it seemed we were getting farther and farther away from what made me like the original in the first place. But at least it's not a shameful debacle like the regrettable "Star Wars" prequels.

Most of "Hyperion" was devoted to seven pilgrims gathered from around the Hegemony of Man to travel to the mysterious world of Hyperion and confront the dangerous spirit/monster known as the Shrike. Along the way the pilgrims told their stories "Canterbury Tales" style of how they ended up on the trip. The story was focused on these seven (six really) characters and the mystery of their journey. I was more than a little frustrated to realize I'd have to wait for another book to find out the solution to this.

Imagine my surprise then when the first third of "Fall of Hyperion" has almost NOTHING to do with the pilgrims or their mission. Instead, we're treated to the narration of "Joseph Severn" or John Keats mark 3. Severn/Keats is a clone of a clone of the 19th Century English poet who somehow has the ability to see what's going on with the pilgrims in his dreams. But mostly he's sitting around at meetings and parties as the Hegemony compares to confront the dreaded Ousters, a race of sort of humans who rejected the decadence of the Hegemony and its reliance on machines of the artificial intelligences known as the TechnoCore. At first this war relates only to the space above Hyperion, but soon it spreads all over. (I have to say that a space empire of 200-plus worlds that has a military of only half a million troops and 600 ships, one that KNOWS there are barbarians outside the gates, deserves to be destroyed. In Earth terms, it would be like tasking Portugal's military to protect the entire North American continent; you'll be spread just a bit thin.)

My reaction was: WHO CARES? I want to know what's going on with the pilgrims, Time Tombs, and the Shrike; I don't care about the silly Hegemony, barbarian hordes, and AIs that communicate in poetry. It seems almost spiteful for an author to lure you in with that first 484 page book and then make you wait hundreds of pages more to get back to that main point. And in the process, the story also lost much of its focus as it tried to spread around to Severn, the pilgrims, the Hegemony, and so on. For the most part then it lacked the humanity of the first book.

When Simmons finally gets around to solving the riddles of the Time Tombs and the Shrike, I found it disappointing. I had already figured out "Moneta's" identity in the first book, so when it's revealed at the end it was no surprise to me. (Though if I hadn't been right I'd probably be complaining about the solution being ridiculous.) Then there's private detective Brawne turning into some superpowered Virgin Mary--only without the "virgin" part--that seemed completely absurd. And really, what did Martin Silenius, the annoying 400-year-old poet, actually contribute to the story? The Tree Templar contributed more to the final result and he was believed dead/actually dead for most of both books!

(Possible spoiler: for a hint at what the final solution involves it'd be like the inhabitants of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" battling SkyNet and its army of Terminators.)

In the end, I came away disappointed with this book, but it's not a completely terrible book. Most of the writing was sound, though I found a little of it to be amateurish, like when a senator says something and then the author says, "She was a short woman with dark hair." which really had no relevance at the moment. While it was written in 1991, a lot of what it says about humanity's dependence on computers and scientific stagnation is still relevant in the 21st Century. The "datasphere" people plug themselves into to communicate with far-off people isn't so different from the Internet we use right now. It might have helped if I were familiar with the Keats poem that shares its title with the novel, but I don't really care about Keats no matter how many clones of him there are.

That is all.

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