Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
In 2004, Ilium won the Locus Sci-Fi award. In my opinion, if the award had been a motor race, the other contenders would have got their asses lapped. That’s not to say there weren’t some good books in the running that year, Quicksilver is epic and I’ve heard good things about Pattern Recognition, The Speed of Dark and Singularity Sky – but Ilium is so far up my alley that it’s sitting on my lap and fiercely tonguing my tonsils.
When I embarked upon my Locus Quest, I picked the Locus Sci-Fi Award over other more highly regarded genre awards (Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke) for one simple reason: Ilium. I looked at my bookcase, saw this book and thought “I want to read more books like that”. Glittering on the cover was a little silver sticker ‘Winner of the Locus Award for best Sci-Fi novel’. I looked online and discovered that none of the more prestigious awards had recognised and rewarded Mr Simmons' mind-blowing madcap genius. “If the good people at Locus share my sensibilities regarding Señor Simmons,” I thought to myself, “then perhaps I’ll share theirs regarding other books.” Just like that, the decision was made and I committed myself to reading every winner of the Locus Sci-Fi award – a reading list that has taken me best part of two years to complete.
My introduction to Ilium set my spider-sense a-tingling. My Mum popped her head round the door and said ‘I’ve got one for you, I couldn’t get into it – it was all a bit much’. Now, that may not sound like an encouraging description, but where my Mum’s tolerance for high-concept sci-fi drops off a cliff my personal sweet-spot begins. Previous authors to elicit this response that it was ‘all a bit much’ included Stephen Baxter, Greg Egan, and Alistair Reynolds – a warm welcome to the new chairman of the 'bit much' club, Dan Simmons!
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy has already done a superb job of summarising the story-strands so I advise you to pop over to his review to wrap your head around them.
This mash-up of classic literature with razor sharp sci-fi is audacious and inspirational. It’s the kind of book that I wish I could write. It’s the kind of book I wish I could trace back to the creative spark that initiated it to try and spin in a new direction. I read the book with a delighted grin stretching my cheeks throughout. The kind of book I’d risk walking into lampposts for because I simply could not tear it away from my face. I’ve read it multiple times and it never fails to delight me. I suppose you could call me a fan?
Off the back of Ilium I read its sequel Olympus (obviously) and then ventured further into Simmons’ work – The Hyperion Cantos, Song of Kali, the Joe Kurtz Trilogy, The Terror and The Hollow Man were all good reads and I’ve got Drood on my shortlist and Carrion Comfort and Summer of Night on my longlist to read as soon as the chance arises.
It’s fair to say I’ve become a big fan of his work – he consistently pushes my buttons.
I am happy to acknowledge that Ilium wont be for everyone (like my Mum) but whenever anyone asks me if it’s worth a read I can’t help but gush. If you have even a passing interest in sparkling, original, intelligent, playful sci-fi – give it a try!