Book Review: Hyperion

Book Name: Hyperion
Author: Dan Simmons
First Published: 1989
Hugo Award for Best Novel 1990
Locus Award Winner 1990

Dan Simmons was born on April 4, 1948 in Peoria, Illinois. He received his B.A in English from Wabash College in 1970 and his Masters in Education from Washington University the following year. He became an elementary school teacher for the next 18 years.

Simmons writing career took off in 1982, when he released his short story The River Styx Runs Upstream with Harlan Ellison’s help. It won first prize in a Twilight Zone Magazine story contest and was published in 1982, the day Simmons’ daughter Jane Kathryn was born. He considers the coincidence useful to “keeping things in perspective when it comes to the relative importance of writing and life.”

Song of Kali, Simmons’ first novel, was then published in 1985. Simmons gained popularity in 1989 when he released Hyperion, a science fiction novel that won the Hugo and Locus Awards. The novel’s structure was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Simmons grew up in several places in the Midwest, including Brimfield, Illinois, which served as the inspiration for the fictional town of Elm Haven in his stories Summer of Night and A Winter Haunting. He has been writing full-time since 1987. He and his wife Karen live in Colorado and he sometimes writes at Windwalker, their high-altitude cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park. A sculpture of the Shrike — the demon-god in Hyperion — made by his friend and former student Clee Richeson stands near the cabin.

Simmons has successfully written books in different genres: fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, and suspense. His books have been published in the USA and Canada, as well as 27 other countries. Many of his novels have been optioned for film, such as Song of Kali, Drood, and The Crook Factory. The Hyperion books, meanwhile, have been bought by Warner Brothers and Graham King Films and are in pre-production.

“It occurs to me that our survival may depend upon our talking to one another.” – Dan Simmons, Hyperion

It is the 28th century and Earth has long been destroyed. Humans colonize the galaxy via “Hawking drive” ships that carry portal machines to new worlds known as “Farcasters”. These portals permit nearly instantaneous travel no matter how far apart the two portal gates are. The farcaster network is the basis of the Hegemony of Man and determines the entire culture and society of humans. Running all this technology is a vast agglomeration of AIs known as the “TechnoCore”.

The Hegemony is a decadent society, ruled by a human executive advised by the TechnoCore advisory council, that relies on its military to protect and defend the Hegemony from attacks by the “Ousters”. They are considered interstellar barbarians who live beyond the dictates of the Hegemony and shun anything to do with the TechnoCore AI machines.

The advice and predictions by the ‘Core are confounded by mysterious structures of the Time Tombs on the remote colony world of Hyperion. The aggressive Ousters are obsessed with the planet and their planned invasion to take Hyperion is imminent.

The Shrike, a very powerful but mysterious being, guards the Time Tombs of Hyperion, a remote colony that the Ousters want to invade. According to legend, when pilgrims visit the Time Tombs, the Shrike will kill all but one of them then grant the survivor his wish.

This time, seven pilgrims make the voyage. They meet each other after coming out of a cryogenic state and each one tells his story during the long trip, in a manner that is reminiscent of the classic Canterbury Tales.

Het Masteen is a Templar who captains the treeship that the pilgrims are riding to Hyperion.

Father Lenar Hoyt is a Roman Catholic priest who once accompanied another priest to Hyperion. There, he got infected with cruciforms, parasites that rebuild and reincarnate dead bodies. The cruciforms cause him excruciating pain and he has built a tolerance for painkillers over time. He is going back to Hyperion to find out what will happen to him.

Colonel Fedmahn Kassad has discovered that his previous lover Moneta has been working with the Shrike to use him to start an interstellar war that will kill billions. He is on the pilgrimage to kill her and the Shrike.

Martin Silenus is an old poet who is working on his greatest poem: Hyperion Cantos. He once lived on Hyperion in an attempt to find his lost muse but the Shrike began murdering the people he lived with. During that time, his muse returned, which convinced him that the Shrike was his muse. Silenus eventually left the colony but has been waiting for centuries to return to finish his poem.

Sol Weintraub‘s daughter Rachel was an archaeologist who contracted the Merlin disease while she was exploring Hyperion. The disease makes her age backwards. She is now an infant and may become nonexistent in her upcoming birthday. Sol is on the pilgrimage to ask the Shrike to cure his daughter.

Brawne Lamia is a private investigator whose client Johnny, a John Keats clone with AI-controlled electronic implants, wanted her to investigate his murder. The assault on Johnny left him with a limited amnesia that Lamia discovered to be connected to his knowledge about Hyperion. Lamia joins the pilgrimage pregnant with Johnny’s child.

The Consul tells a story about his grandparents, Merin Aspic and Siri of the ocean-planet Maui-Covenant. Merin was on a long-term contract to build a farcaster portal to connect Maui-Covenant to the Hegemony. He falls in love with a native girl. They reunite only seven times, with the time dilation causing Merin to barely age as Siri follows time naturally and dies of old age. At this time the farcaster is about to be activated. Merin chooses to sabotage the portal, starting “Siri’s War”, in order to prevent the Hegemony tourists from ruining the ecology of the world and destroying the human and dolphin inhabitants.

The Consul was forbidden by Merin to join in the war and instead he bides his time in the Hegemony diplomatic corps, waiting for a moment to betray the government and obtain his revenge. The consul is instrumental in an Ouster plot to release the Shrike from the Time Tombs where it would have a chance to enter the datastream “WorldWeb” of the Hegemony.

As a former secondary school teacher myself, how can I resist a science fiction novel that is structured like the Canterbury Tales of old? Simmons uses the pilgrimage as a tool to bring together a diverse group of characters who do not have much in common, but soon all share the same goal. Each story has a different feel and the pulls from classic literature transformed into science fiction is well done. Be warned: the book does have a cliff-hanger ending. You will need to read The Fall of Hyperion to find out what happens next.

Hyperion Book CoverHyperion Cantos:

Hyperion (1989)
The Fall of Hyperion (1990)
Endymion (1995)
The Rise of Endymion (1997)

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Hyperion”

  1. That is a fantastic cover. I have a favorite book that has been around for a long time. I have seen more than a dozen covers for it. I’m thinking of collecting them and putting them all in a large glassed frame. Art. Cover art art.

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