I read The Terror
a couple of summers ago and was not a fan. I felt like his prose was ponderous and that the work needed some heavy editing. Granted, it was heavily researched and had an authentic feel to it, just story-wise, I was not a fan. And so it was with great trepidation that I picked up another Simmons book.
I am pleasantly surprised and believe that this book deserves every bit of hype it's given. Hyperion
is how science fiction should be done. It's intelligent, crosses generations but maintains a singular narrative thread throughout. Seven pilgrims set out on a suicide mission as the galaxy prepares for war. The object of the pilgrimage: the Time Tombs, a region on the world Hyperion surrounded by anti-entropic fields that travel backwards
through time. Who built the Tombs and for what purpose? What exactly is the Shrike that defends the Tombs and stalks the residents of the planet? There's a tangled web of mystery here that deepens as each traveller tells the story of their previous connections with the world. Each story is unique, narrated in its own subtle style by characters that are so fascinating you really want to learn more about them - the drunken poet from Old Earth, the exiled Consul that ran Hyperion for the Hegemony, a Catholic priest from a crumbling faith and a hard-boiled detective are among the narrators.
There are two things that make this worthy of all five stars. First, Simmons devotes a lot of thought to creating a world that you can really get lost in. The politics, culture, history and religious systems are all coherent, believable and damn interesting. There's very little of the typical science fiction affectation that makes you cringe. There are some sci-fi authors who are so caught up in their own cleverness that you can almost sense the dramatic pause in their narrative when they think they've done something dramatic in the conceptualization of their history of the future. ("And then the Chinese and Americans destroyed the world........the world.......China.....America.....because it's kind of believable, you know.....because they're both superpowers.....get it?......) Ok, that was a poor example, but you know what I mean! I can't stand sci-fi stories built around some crappy sci-fi author's idea of a clever prediction. It makes for poor reading and just feels juvenile. The good news is that none of that is here. Simmons introduces historical events to his universe as they suit the story, and many of them play into a larger conspiracy that unravels throughout the narrative. He introduces the elements and moves on to the things that matter - the characters and the story. Simmons introduces a bewildering array of literary allusions that provide a larger narrative and mythological framework for the story. The science is believable and non-intrusive and I enjoyed the way Simmons used relativity and time-dilation to suit elements of the story-telling, making a massive narrative that spans generations, but remains grounded in the present feasible. Beyond the creation of this intricate world, Simmons also manages to create a layered plot with tons of really interesting mysteries that gnaw at your brain and demand resolution. The inclusion of two time-lines, flowing forward and backward, really make anything possible. There are mythological elements (intricate mazes left as artifacts on some of the worlds humanity expands to), political intrigue (between different human and AI factions) and of course the scientific mystery of the Tombs themselves. There are echoes of Asimov's Foundation
series, but Simmons's narrative seems more cohesive and purposeful than Asimov's languid meandering through epochs of human development. A sense of urgency exists because of the backdrop of planetary invasion, a sensitivity to time that propels the narrative forward that is lacking in Asimov's opera that I think will make this more accessible to readers.
There are tons of dangling mysteries that are left up to the reader's imagination and I rather like that. It's a mark of sophistication and confidence that a story-teller doesn't feel compelled to spell everything out for his or her audience. Simmons shows an intuitive ability to identify elements that the reader should know more about and what the reader just wants to know about. The result is a world and story that you want to learn more about, that keeps you awake at night and fighting an immediate compulsion to push on to the next book.