Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: Hyperion

by Dan Simmons
Doubleday, 1989
Buy it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Recommended by David Martinez

So, it's shameful confession time: I was supposed to read Hyperion back when I was a sophomore in high school. My uncle bought me a paperback copy (you know, way back in the caveman days when we used to read books printed on dead trees. Odd, I know) and insisted that it would be one of the best sci-fi books I ever read. I read the first two chapters, thought they were great, and then promptly put it down to read whatever the latest Star Wars book was.

Please forgive me. I was young and foolish and in love with a movie series that George Lucas had not yet finished ruining.

Anyway, nine years later, I've made it all the way through Hyperion without wanting to put it down once. The book can best be described as a mash-up between Dune and The Canterbury Tales, although it doesn't read very much like either one of them. Yes, the book focuses on a bunch of offworlders who find themselves on a planet caught in-between a population of zealous natives and a hostile invasion force. True, the seven travelers in question each tell very different stories in order to pass the time. However, in spite of its inspirations - which range from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Keats to Asimov - Hyperion is very much an original story, and the world of sci-fi literature is all the better for it.

While there is way too much going on in the story to sum it up neatly, I'll give it a go anyway: seven very different travelers find themselves on a pilgrimage to the world of Hyperion in order to make contact with the Shrike, an incredibly destructive alien presence that they have all come in contact with before in one way or another. They might be able to save the galaxy from a barbarian invasion - or they might just get eviscerated. Either way, they decide to share their stories as they make their way to the mysterious Time Tombs where the Shrike resides.

That's pretty much it. The stories themselves are the main focus, but by piecing together background details, you'll learn exactly what's been going on in the galaxy at large and what role the Shrike might play in the fate of galactic civilization. Each story has a different writing style, ranging from epistolary journal entries to military sci-fi to a film noir detective story. Each character, from the bitter scholar Sol Weintraub to the stoic soldier Fedmahn Kassad, is extremely flawed, but still likable.

The book, however, does have one serious problem, but it's hard to address without going into major spoilers. To keep things as vague as possible, I'll just say that the book has a very unsatisfying ending. There are some important plot points that happen towards the end, but the actual resolution of the book basically amounts to "buy the sequel." There's no real climax, and it ends right before it gets to what promises to be the best part of the story. Read at your own risk, and be sure to set aside another $8 or so for the next installment.

Recommending a "better" book here is tough, as Hyperion is actually one of the better-written, smarter sci-fi tales out there. If you want to know where about half the plot comes from, though, be sure to read Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Actually, read Foundation no matter what. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

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