Book Review: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
A number of reviewers focus on a perceived likeness to Canterbury Tales. This is only one aspect of the writing and a loose one at that. Chaucer wrote most of his tales in verse, this is all prose. The “frame” technique is certainly older than Chaucer and the fact that Chaucer uses pilgrims is probably the only other similarity to Hyperion.

The title is probably a reference Keats’ poems Hyperion and the fall of Hyperion, which referred to the Greek titan by that same name. I believe Simmons also liked the direct reference to the titan, as so little was “known” about this titan and thus it was a mystery–just as the planet and its main “god” the shrike is a mystery.

This is science fiction, not fantasy, yet as with most science fiction authors the boundaries are stretched. This novel does come close to five stars, but as it is part of a series it needs to be viewed as the first in the series and wholly on its own. The style in the rest of series is significantly different, which also makes for an unequal read.

Hyperion can be viewed as an excellent set of short stories where you are always left wanting more: more of the individual story and more of the frame story. Part of what makes this such a great book is that Simmons has obviously worked out the universe and back story and yet is willing to not give you all of it. This gives what you are reading the feeling of fullness that is not found in most short stories. It feels rich. You want to read more about something that is mentioned only once in a sentence, but you know you will never need to.

Each short story centers completely on its main character. The main characters are all quite flawed, with the possible exception of Sol Weintraub, a former professor of ethics. His story, centering on his daughter, is almost cliché in the love of a father for his daughter knowing no limits, but it still works. For those of us with a daughter, it is hard not to empathize and shed a tear in shared agony.

The intriguing “character,” if one can call it that, is the Shrike. It is an enigma of a creature that is pure destruction, but not necessarily evil. It is also timeless and exists outside of time. It is worshiped, but may be the cause of the destruction of the universe. The technique of never quite letting on what the Shrike is, is exactly what makes it work.

I recommend reading the first book all the way through and then deciding if you want to read the other two. It can be read as stand alone, but only if you enjoy good writing, good characters, and a mystery left unexplained. If you must know more, you will be reading three books, each ever so slightly inferior to this first one.


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