Wordy Wednesday – Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Simple version – Hyperion is one of the best science fiction novels I have ever read.
Humans have scattered across the galaxy. Earth was destroyed in the “Mistake of ‘38”. We expanded all over the place, first in spaceship that used the ‘Hawking drive’ to get places. Once we got to places, we constructed farcasters – basically portals that connected the settled worlds. Existing alongside or perhaps within the farcaster system is the datasphere (as far as I can tell, it’s a mix of the present day internet and the metaverse from Neal Stephonson’s Snow Crash.
The Shrike is a jerk who sucks. (Source)
Very important – the datasphere is where artificial intelligences live. In fact, before Hyperion begins, these AIs have seceded from human rule. They are autonomous beings that reside in the TechnoCore. They maintain the farcaster system and advise humanity, but they do not directly serve us. It is an odd arrangement – they seem eager to please, and yet they don’t have to.
Humanity is united under one rule, and has been for centuries. There has been one major rebellion, and that’s about it. Simmons does a good job portraying what kind of galaxy this is. Farcasters allow people to set from one planet to another, light years away, in a heartbeat. Distance is nothing. The datasphere provides news, entertainment, and pretty much anything you want.
The farcasters link the worlds of humanity together in the ‘WorldWed’ or just the Web for short. The Web is ruled by the Hegemony, and the CEO of the Hegemony is Meina Gladstone.
That’s the background. Now here’s the story. And, to be honest, I’m getting a little excited just thinking about how good a story this is. Dan Simmons is a master. This is sci-fi at its best.
Not all humans live within the Web. The Ousters decided to spurn the reliance on AI that other humans bought into. The Ousters are feared by the Web worlds; they are likened to interstellar barbarians, lurking at the edge of Hegemony space.
Gotta break up my fan-boy gushing with some awesome star pictures. (Source)
So, within this frame, we find that the TechnoCore advises the Hegemony CEO, Gladstone. Gladstone doesn’t wholly trust the TechnoCore. But the predictive aspects of the TechnoCore are unable to deal with the anomaly that is the planet Hyperion.
Hyperion isn’t part of the Web, though people live there. No farcaster connects Hyperion to any other world. People have to fly there in Hawking drive ships. Hawking drives provide faster than light travel, but they aren’t instantaneous, so they can’t compare to farcasters.
Anyway. The story of Hyperion; there are a set of tombs on the planet called the Time Tombs. Covered by entropic fields that rise and recede in tides, the Time Tombs are apparently moving backwards in time. This is likely what makes Hyperion an unknown factor to the TechnoCore. The Time Tombs are haunted as well – a creature known as the Shrike kills many who arrive at the Time Tombs. The Shrike is a creature of metal, three meters tall, covered in spikes and blades. It is a living nightmare – no one knows why it is there.
The Shrike is named after birds that impale creatures on thorns. So, yeah. (Source)
There is a religion around the Shrike – the Shrike Cult in popular slang of the time, but formally known as the Church of Final Atonement. This church allows seven people to make a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs once a year or every few years. The Shrike is reportedly allowed to grant wishes. No one knows how or why, but the legends are enough to supply supplicants.
Hyperion is the first book in a series of four, called the Hyperion Cantos. Much is left up in the air at the end of the novel. And still, I loved it.
It is set up inside a frame story. Seven pilgrims have been selected by the Shrike church to visit the Time Tombs. Each has a specific reason for going. Along the way, they tell their tales to one another (except for one, Het Masteen, the Templar. But we get his story later, in The Fall of Hyperion). As the pilgrims travel to, and then on, Hyperion, they each tell the story of why they want to reach the Shrike. Some want answers, others want favors. Some want revenge.
Each story is compelling. Simmons is an excellent writer, in full control of the tales. And each tale blends into other genres – they aren’t all straight sci-fi.
There are six stories told during the novel. We’ve got the Priest’s Tale, then the Soldier’s, then the Poet’s, Scholar’s, Detective’s, and the Consul’s Tale.
The Priest’s Tale is actually another frame story, and it centers on religious archaeology. Instead of distant lands, we’ve got distant planets. Christianity has fallen on hard times, and the number of the faithful has waned to maybe tens of thousands, all on one backwater planet.Lenar Hoyt, the Priest making the pilgrimage to the Shrike, must first tell the story of another priest before he can tell his own, so this tale is like two in one – and both are good.
The Soldier’s Tale is told by “The Butcher of Bressia,” Colonel Fedmahn Kassad. He starts with a flashback to his training days, where he would be immersed in a virtual reality in order to experience a variety of historical wars. But each time, he is visited by a woman who is not part of the program. He falls in love with her, and when he goes to war in the real world, she appears there as well. Who is she, really? And why does she come to Kassad? (We actually don’t learn who she really is until the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, even though her identity is telegraphed pretty heavily and is easy to guess).
The Poet’s Tale is told by Martin Silenus, a poet who has extended his life with special treatments. He used to live on Old Earth, before it was destroyed. His life takes him from wealth to poverty and back again, as he pens an epic poem called the Hyperion Cantos; it’s about the destruction of Old Earth, the mystery of the Time Tombs, and Humanity’s relation to the TechnoCore. Silenus lives on Hyperion for a time as well, as part of a commune of poets and artists, as he tries to write a sequel to the Cantos. He has more than one reason to return to Hyperion and enter the Time Tombs.
The Scholar’s Tale was, to me, the most poignant. Sol Weintraub is a simple academic on a sparsely
populated world. He lives a peaceful life, raising a daughter with his wife. Rachel, their daughter, becomes a researcher on the Time Tombs, and while visiting them is affected by the anti-entropic energy fields that fluctuate around the Tombs. Aged 27 when the event occurs, Rachel begins to age backwards. The best specialists of the Web can’t help. And Sol is having a recurring dream, one that his wife shares. Sol has come to Hyperion to find a cure for his daughter – she has weeks left before she grows too young to survive outside a womb. Sol’s tale deals closely with what it means to be faithful and the nature of worship. The picture on the right, of Abraham getting ready to obey God’s command to kill Isaac, Abraham’s son, is central to Sol’s tale. It’s so, so compelling, and the ease with which Simmons switches from the Poet’s Tale, where Silenus is a smart-ass commentator during his own tale, to Sol’s tale, is masterful.
And then Simmons switches again, to the hard-knocks of the Detective’s Tale. It is deliciously noir, as Brawne Lamia, a private investigator, is hired by a mysterious man to solve a case. The man claims he needs a murder solved – his own. Here, we get a lot of information about the TechnoCore, all very important to the plot, though the payoff comes much later. And this isn’t to say that the other tales didn’t have important info in them either – they did – but this one is very clear in what it brings to the table. For a detective mystery, it was packed with revelations, even if the “a-ha!” moment comes in the sequel. Lamia’s story also shows us the importance of, believe it or not, John Keats – the turn-of-the-nineteenth century English poet. He had been mentioned before – Hyperion is named for one of his poems, and the poet Silenus begins the Hyperion Cantos as a parody of some of Keats’ work.
Keats: sci-fi badass. (Source)
And finally, we get the Consul’s Tale. The Consul is the first person we meet at the beginning of the novel. His tale is about as sad as Sol’s. It starts with a love story, doomed by relativistic space travel, and ends with a failed rebellion.
To reiterate – I love Hyperion and you should read it.
For all that Hyperion was immediately one of my favorite sci-fi novels, the sequel – The Fall of Hyperion – is absolutely necessary to understand what is really going on. Hyperion just sort of stops. The pilgrims are just about to set foot in the Time Tombs, and the book ends. So frustrating! But The Fall of Hyperion, which I’ll talk about later, may be even better than Hyperion. But I think of them as a single book, because it makes more sense to me that way. Top-notch science fiction, all around. Go. Go read them.
Posted on August 22, 2012, in Wordy Wednesdays and tagged dan simmons, farcaster, hyperion book, hyperion poem, john keats, ousters, sci-fi noir, technocore, the shrike, time tombs, worldweb. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.