Jonathan Cullen's Reviews > Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
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Jan 28, 11

Recommended for: anyone
Read in October, 2010

I'm frankly terrified to review Dan Simmons' masterpiece Hyperion. It is too good and too big for me to do this right. So...if I'm going to do it wrong, I might as well have fun. I thought I would mirror both Chaucer's and Simmons' use of the frame story in my review:


(The opening bit of Keats poetry)

He enter’d, but he enter’d full of wrath;
His flaming robes stream’d out beyond his heels,
And gave a roar, as if of earthly fire,
That scar’d away the meek ethereal Hours

The Overarching Frame

This may be one of my favourite books, ever. The Pilgrimage is the perfect literary tool for bringing together a bunch of characters who appear to have little in common but soon all share the same goal. Simmons does a masterful job at telling each story in different styles. The feel is unique each time. The structure of Hyperion offers something for everyone, even readers unfamiliar with sci-fi. Horror fans will be drawn to the legend of the Shrike, and the Priest's story, while perhaps the slowest to develop, reminded me of Stephen King. There's plenty to love for space opera junkies, and there's mystery, intrigue and deceit. There's also the exploration of the depth of a parent's love for their child. Oh and people get sliced and diced, nah huh.

I'm not at home in a sci-fi or fantasy book unless I'm confused for at least the first few pages, if not longer. The opening scene confronts us with new words ("time-debt"?), odd requests and tantalizing bits of interesting information. Read in retrospect, we feel very comfortable in this scene (which is one I particularly like). That's good, and means we've integrated ourselves into Simmon's freaky world. Although the overarching story is definitely odd, by the end of it you've bought what Simmons is selling; at full price. It's just odd enough for you to be curious, and there's just enough information revealed to encourage you to fly through the pages. Strange can be good, and in Hyperion, it's incredible.

Story Within a Story # 1: "The Freaking Shrike"

I loved the freaking Shrike! I was delighted to learn that its (his?, her?) name comes from a bird that skewers its insect prey on plant thorns. Yeesh! We can certainly discuss it, but word for word (or lack thereof), the Lord of Pain is one of sci-fi's best villains/protagonists. Mind you, I've only read the Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion duology, so who knows, perhaps it's not a really villain. The Shrike reminds me of Darth Vader on a few levels. It's Vader, like the Shrike, that dictates how the story progresses. The actions of all of the other characters are only in reaction to the Shrike. The protagonist in Hyperion is the Shrike; and it never says a word. However, I wouldn't classify it as an anti-hero because it certainly doesn't elicit any sympathy or other positive feelings. One difference: when the Shrike is around, instead of a haunting John Williams score, I hear the crazy part of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird". Actually, the opening lyrics to that song make a great pilgrimage tune for the Consul et al.:

"If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me
For I must be traveling on now
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see"

Ehem. I digress. The physical description of the Shrike is cool to mull over: three meters tall, made of razor wire, thorns, blades, and cutting edges, with four multi-jointed arms, and scalpel-like fingers and toes. It's metallic, but it's also organic. Don't forget the ruby red eyes. When I first read that, I was like, "WTF is this thing?", and I'm still kind of wondering that. Definitely makes it on my list of Literary Badasses, perhaps sandwiched between Coltaine, the Wickan Fist of the 7th Army and the Gunslinger Roland Deschaine of Gilead. Come, come, commala Lord of Pain, come, commala.

Story Within a Story # 2: "The Nine Words You Can't Say on Hyperion"

The alcoholic satyr-like poet Martin Sileneus is the scene-stealer of this book, although his best line comes in Fall of Hyperion (in an abundance of caution I'll leave that comment to the review of the sequel). I have to admit that in a potty humour kind of way, I liked Martin's somewhat limited yet colourful vocabulary during his brain-damaged period. Simmon's homage to George Carlin was pretty funny and reminded me of a scene in Iain M. Bank's Use of Weapons when a cab driver who uses a voice box to speak gets the crap kicked out of him and the voice box keeps saying things like "thank you", "where would you like to go" and "I'd like another please".
Through Martin we get a glimpse of what happened to Old Earth. It was a creative method of exposition and obviated the need to have a character suddenly give a misplaced history lesson. Martin gives Simmons an excuse to answer the reader's natural curiosity.

Story Within a Story # 3: "A Parent's Nightmare"

Sol's story, all by its lonesome, is worth the price of admission to Hyperion. Dan Simmons has proven that he can not only tackle tech and space opera with aplomb, but that he can also create vivid characters with whom we no doubt identify. I'm a new father and I found Sol's story to be extremely moving. Plus the freaking Shrike reaching for me in the dark would turn my shorts brown. Sol deserved the cover spot on my edition of The Fall of Hyperion. Don't doooooo iiitttttt!!!!

Story Within a Story # 4: "Farcasters and Farcaster Houses"

Was it me or was the idea of Martin's house where each room is on a different planet completely awesome? If this was real, people like Britney Spears would have enough money for two such houses AND be stupid enough to actually own two. Simmons does something with tech that I think a lot of authors fail to take advantage of: he ensures that the technology he creates and uses in his story does not exist in a vacuum (no pun intended) but that it impacts how society functions. In the opening scene of Hyperion, we're aboard the Consul's ship with his piano. At some point in the story we're told that private ownership of space vessels is extremely rare. I found this fact odd until we were introduced to farcasters and their relatively ubiquitous use. Who the hell would own an expensive space ship when you can go to a multitude of planets in your PJs? I also liked that with power comes increased access to farcaster technology. The fact that the President has a private farcaster makes sense.

Story Within a Story # 5: "The Freaking Shrike…again"

I make use of the Shrike's time-travel abilities to make a second comment here. The scene with Kassad and the Shrike was a very interesting concept of time as a weapon. That cool fight was also a nice little exemplar of how nobody has a chance against the Lord of Pain...

Story Within a Story # 6: "I am of the cruciform"

After reading the Priest's story I wondered how this one could be topped. Reading journal entries is always an interesting way of being exposed to facts because there is a suddenness to each revelation. Things happen while the journal's author is not jotting down his thoughts. Weird things. The opening lines of Father Paul Duré's later journal entries become tensely anticipated.

The Return to the Overarching Story

I was very impressed with Dan Simmons' tale. It rocketed him to the top of my favourite authors list and cemented him as one of my must-reads for years to come. I've since checked out his online writing course and have gained even more appreciation for the structure of Hyperion, the exposition and the prose. Most highly recommended.

The Unsatisfying Wrap-up

You'll have to read my Fall of Hyperion review...
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 Brillant review! I have often wanted to start this book, but I always chicken out at the end. It's too BIG for me to process. Your review has given me some courage.


Jonathan Cullen Thanks Gavin. You can't afford NOT to process this one. It's ironic that you're reading The Stand because that one is on my list of shame: I read about half while on my honeymoon, loved it, but when I got home I dropped it for some reason. My 2011 anti-shame campaign includes that and Deadhouse Gates, which I'm happy to say I have successfully shed.


message 3: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Okay, I guess I just have to read this. Half the people I know have recommended it, but this was unusually eloquent...


Jonathan Cullen If I can get just one more soul to impale himself on the Shrike's Tree of Pain, I will have done my job.


message 5: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Excellent review! I'm very interested in picking this up.


message 6: by Carolyn (new) - added it

Carolyn Crane Wow! I love this character-based review of Hyperion, and wow, these characters sound amazing. I'm especially curious about this bit with Martin Sileneus in regards to old Earth. And Shrike! How wild. Gotta pick this one up...


Sandi You got this novel down pat.


Jonathan Cullen Writing about it makes me want to re-read it but I best finish the second duology. Maybe the whole house of cards will come crashing down and I'll never want to touch this again...unlikely!


Sandi Jonathan wrote: "Writing about it makes me want to re-read it but I best finish the second duology. Maybe the whole house of cards will come crashing down and I'll never want to touch this again...unlikely!"

Actually the second two stand completely on their own. There are a few references back to the first two books, but they seem like completely different series. I think that's because it's set so far in the future from the first duology.


message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert I prefer the second two, which is not to say I disliked the first two.


Jared Rowcliffe Darth Vador and Free Bird ... only you. Great review, I did finally finish it and agree that it is great. What's odd for me with Hyperion is that the aspect of it that I most admire is also what caused me to enjoy it a bit less than I wanted to. That being the different styles and paces of each pilgrim's story. I am amazed by Simmons ability to change his style with each character. It almost seems like a different author wrote each pilgrim's story. At the same time this threw off the flow of the story for me and it took me a long time to get through it. Still a great sci-fi classic and I look forward to starting the next.


Jonathan Cullen That's definitely a fair comment. My least fav story was Brawne. The subtitle was "The Long Goodbye" which is one of my fav Raymond Chandler books. However the whole detective thing seemed cheesy. I made no mention of this in my review because it had little impact on my overall enjoyment.


Jonathan Cullen And you know what I'm talking about with Free Bird...


Jared Rowcliffe You mean when they are jamming so hard it feels like the world is ending?


Jonathan Cullen That's the one. I also imagine Jethro Tull writing a song about the Shrike. It could be called Aquashrike.


message 16: by Brandy (new) - added it

Brandy im going to order this book and read it.. all you guys make it sound like a great book to have read. :)


Jonathan Cullen I was worried about over-selling it but I think my "Aquashrike" comment dialed that back nicely.


message 18: by Milo (new) - added it

Milo My goodness how eloquently you write. This book has been on my to read list too long. I'm going to have to pick it up sometime soon.


Jared Rowcliffe Careful Milo his ego is big enough as it is


Jonathan Cullen I resemble that remark. May the Shrike skewer you through a particularly unpleasant orifice as it hoists you onto a particularly wide thorn upon his Tree of Pain on a particularly windy day next to a fellow with particularly nefarious BO. On your birthday.


Jared Rowcliffe Think I've had that happen to me already ;)


Jonathan Cullen An even smaller orifice then.


Jared Rowcliffe shut your orifice


Jonathan Cullen He enter’d, but he enter’d full of wrath


message 25: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Nicely done. Truly. So I read your review-duology in reverse and it didn't work; I should have read this one first.


Jonathan Cullen The Reviewquel indeed is best second.


Demerzel Brilliant review, this is definitely one of the best, if not THE best science fiction books ever. I totally agree with everything you say.


message 28: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim fantastic review!


message 29: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark May I recommend "Thief of Time," regarding your substory #5...


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