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).
Of the six award winning novels that I had already read before I began my Locus Quest, four were written by the maestro, Dan Simmons.
It was the 2004 winner, Ilium, which converted me into a Simmons fan-boy (and ultimately inspired the Locus Quest itself), but the other three winners (1990 – Hyperion, 1991 – The Fall of Hyperion, 1998 – The Rise of Endymion) are all parts of his Hyperion Cantos, a masterwork which cemented his place in the sci-fi Pantheon over a decade earlier.
I’m going to pluck a few choice phrases from other reviews to give you sense of what lurks inside these pages:
“The sheer number of awesome science fiction ideas touched on in this book is mind boggling.” – Ed
”It is an intense read, and I found the 500 pages fairly flew by” - Nicholas Whyte
“What in the world did I just read, and why didn't I read it sooner?” - Kay
“I'm frankly terrified to review Dan Simmons' masterpiece Hyperion. It is too good and too big for me to do this right.” – Jonathan Cullen
It’s that last quote from JC that rings truest – this is a complex, inspired and unique vision of a sci-fi epic. Mashing structure and tropes from Chaucer and Keats into a universe of galaxy-spanning, time-travelling, visceral conflict takes an imagination and literary love above and beyond the call of normal storytelling duty.
There are characters and images here that have been reverberating within the walls of my skull ever since I encountered them. The brain damaged poet. The cruciform adorned priest. The utterly badass shrike monster him/her/itself!
Simmons does it all by turns – adventure, mystery, thriller, horror, romance, erotica, philosophy, high-concept, etc. It’s a tour-de-force that pounds you into submission.
There are two complaints regularly levelled at this book, so let’s get them out the way, shall we?
1)The book ends abruptly.
To call it a cliff-hanger would be generous. Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion were written as a single volume and split into two for the sake of publishing. Honestly, it reads like the editor just found the mid point and took a cleaver to the original manuscript – there is no effort made to make the first instalment stand alone.
The simple solution? Read the two halves together and judge them as a single unit. How hard it that? It makes me rather irate when people moan about the ending, because it’s not an ending! It’s a mid-point! Get to the end of Fall and THEN try and tell me that the ending didn’t blow your mind surer than sucking on the business end of a bazooka. I dares ya!
2)There’s too much jargon and not enough explaining.
I don’t argue this one – it’s a fair complaint (if this is an issue for you). This is high-brow space-opera, so there’s a lot of tech, a lot of acronyms, a lot of made-up words and not a whole bunch of layman’s-terms.
For me, this is part of the appeal of what’s often called ‘hard sci-fi’. Everything is dropped on you ‘as-is’, and the audience is credited with enough wits (and genre experience) to pick it up and run with it. Simmons doesn’t waste any words making it easier for you.
I don’t mind this in the slightest. But if you’ve found it to be a turn-off in the past, then take due warning: this may not be the series for you!
but IF you can
a)endure a bit of hard sci-fi jargon
b)are willing to put in the effort to read part-two before you reach a conclusion
THEN – order a copy immediately
And begin your own pilgrimage to meet The Shrike!
You owe it to yourself.