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Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Friday, 2 January 2009

I found this book both engrossing and frustrating. It is certainly ambitious and certainly interesting, dealing as it does with the role of religion and the religious impulse within a high-tech culture. Events revolve the Shrike, an alien killing machine that is worshipped by some as divine. The universe within which the story of the Shrike unfolds is compelling : the Ousters, the Technocore, FORCE, the Templars etc. are all very well done and believable. The book won the Hugo and Locus awards and the ambition of the story and the detail of the universe were doubtless a large part of this.

Similarly the cast of characters Simmons uses is impressive. We essentially get a different angle on the Shrike's story from a succession of protagonists. The novel is, in fact, a series of novellas as these characters, together on a last pilgrimage to the Shrike, recount their life stories. So, a sort of Canterbury Tales in space, with a lot of Keats thrown in for good measure. But here is the first frustration. There is very little to link the main characters together. Very few pages are devoted to them interacting so that by the end of the book you kind of stop caring about the characters who told their story earlier on. Now, each individual story is wonderfully well done. Apart from the greater mystery surrounding the nature of the Shrike, each could almost be read as a self-contained and highly satisfying story. But as a structure for a novel it clearly has its issues. A shame there wasn't, for example, more cross-over between the individual tales.

But you forgive all this as events move towards the final show-down with the Shrike. And here is the main frustration with the book. There is no final show-down. Events stop just before the pilgrims get there. They say books often make the mistake of starting too early and/or rambling on for too long after the denouement. This isn't a criticism that could be made of Hyperion. It just stops. A bit of research reveals that there is at least one other book in the series - if series it is - that presumably explains just what has been going on throughout Hyperion. But getting to the end of what I thought was a self-contained book only to find that it isn't self-contained is hugely irritating. Perhaps it is just a failure of the packaging in the edition I own. But for me the (lack of) ending spoiled the whole experience.

Special mention has to go to the house owned at one point by Martin Silenus, the poet pilgrim. It is a series of rooms, each on a different world but joined together by your standard SF hypserspace gates so that you can walk from room to room as you would in a normal house. A wonderful and beautiful idea. And a reminder of why I love SF.


  1. Hi. My name's Alex and I'm a business student and an aspiring author. I just checked out your website, and I read your Lost in a Good Book short story. I liked it- wish more people enjoyed literature like that. Anyways, I wrote something you might be interested in, being an aspiring author and all. Hope you check it out.

  2. Hi Alex,

    Very interesting post on your Blog. Very sobering! But you make some excellent points. I think I'd add that you should really only write if you have to, i.e. if you're driven to, despite the overwhelming odds.

    Best of luck with the writing anyway – and don't give up!


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