Prison always has been a good place for writers, killing, as it does, the twin demons of mobility and diversion— Martin Silenus, Hyperion
Hyperion is like nothing I have ever read before. A sprawling sci-fi epic that is at the same time deeply personal and poetic, Dan Simmons has achieved a monumental feat of storytelling with the first novel in the Hyperion Cantos. My partner picked this up for me as a birthday present after she had read glowing recommendations for it online. I don’t often read sci-fi novels, mostly staying in the realm of literature, fantasy, and “Stephen King” (who I consider a genre onto himself), and it was initially difficult for me to get into, but about fifty pages in I was hooked.
Set in a time hundreds of years after the destruction of Old Earth, humanity’s home world has become a thing of legend, and the Hegemony of Man populates a web of over two hundred interconnected planets. Following a split with an AI of humanity’s creation, the TechnoCore, and a separatist group known as the Ousters, mankind has the technology to achieve faster than light travel and instantaneous transportation through spacetime with portal-like devices called farcasters. Man’s dominion is split between worlds that are connected by farcaster and those that are not, known as Outback worlds. It is in this part of the galaxy that the eponymous planet Hyperion is located. The entire story revolves in some way around the planet and its mysterious Shrike Cult, and the pilgrims chosen to visit the planet on the final Shrike Pilgrimage together. The heart of the novel lay in the stories of the pilgrims, and I have read that in many ways the story is akin to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Along their journey the pilgrims must recount their personal stories and reasons for coming on the pilgrimage through a set of what are essentially short stories within the main narrative.
These stories were by far my favourite part of the novel. The pilgrims are Father Lenar Hoyt, a Jesuit priest, Het Masteen, a Templar, Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a Hegemony FORCE soldier, Sol Weintraub, a Jewish scholar and professor, Martin Silenus, a poet, Brawne Lamia, a private eye, and a man known only as The Consul, who was the consul of Hyperion for over a decade. All of the pilgrims offer a unique story and wonderful characterization, and there is not a one in the bunch that feels boring. That said there were two standouts for me, those of Sol Weintraub and Father Hoyt, and only one which I felt was a bit underwhelming, which was Brawne Lamia’s. It is impossible however for any of the stories to be left out as they all offer critical backstory and world building details and a lend a grave intensity and gravity to the pilgrimage. Though I am bursting to talk about the details of the plot with someone I will not reveal them in depth here; each story was so radically different to what I thought it would be that I would find it a shame to spoil any of them for someone else.
The prose is powerful and poetic, and full of deep religious and philosophical overtones, especially the stories I highlighted above. Even at times where the story was moving a little slower, it was only a page or two before Simmons drew me back in with his beautiful imagery and weighted characters. At the beginning of the novel I was a little put off by the sci-fi namedropping and techno-jargon that constituted the initial world building, but the more I read the more I became enthralled with the world of Hyperion. It was a lot like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, in that the slang words that are thrown around by Alex are alienating and difficult at the beginning of the book, but by the end you know their meaning by context. Words like the WorldWeb, All Thing, Hegira, TechnoCore, farcasters, and dozens of other concepts are thrown into the mix at a fast pace. All of these concepts mix wonderfully together to form a satisfying and cohesive whole that does not feel labourious to learn about. After finishing the novel I found myself frustrated that there was not a great deal of extra information about specific planets or technologies on the Internet, though I suppose the mark of a great story is that it leaves you wanting more.
Overall I would rank Hyperion as one of the greatest books I have ever read, and I am now seriously enamoured by it. In one night alone I read over fifty pages. I cannot remember the last time a book did that to me, not even East of Eden. The worst thing about it is that it ended on somewhat of a cliff-hanger! I now need to go out and immediately buy The Fall of Hyperion to bring the story to its conclusion and satisfy my desire for more. I can only pray that the Lord of Pain does not find me first.