Ryan's Reviews > Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
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's review
Mar 05, 12

bookshelves: favorites, fic-speculative
Read from February 22 to 28, 2012

I first read this book in college, and couldn’t put it down. Coming back to it years later (in audiobook form this time), I’m just as absorbed.

Hyperion is space opera in its peak form, with vivid writing, well-realized characters, a futuristic universe that’s both imaginative and believable, and a story that pulses with mystery. Unlike most science fiction, it's also a consciously literary-minded novel, referencing works ranging from the poetry of Keats to the medieval Canterbury Tales. Anyone who's had to read the latter in high school will recognize Simmons' inspired re-imagining, in which seven travelers from very different walks of life share their personal tales with one another as they make their way on a pilgrimage towards an enigmatic alien temple and its dark, mysterious inhabitant, the Shrike. Then there are numerous nods to other works of science fiction, from Poulson to Gibson. All the thematic connections help Hyperion feel like a work somehow bigger than itself.

To be fair, Simmons sometimes gets a little too obvious with the name-dropping, which led to a bit of eye-rolling on my part, but Hyperion is still compulsively readable. The first two “tales”, by the priest and soldier respectively, are absolute page-turners. If you aren’t drawn into the story of Father Dure’s mission to the descendants of some lost colonists, who have become a little odd during the intervening centuries, then science fiction might not be for you, The Bukowski-in-space poet’s tale and the haunting scholar’s tale, have less typical science fiction plots, but were (I thought) just as good. The remaining tales, while not quite as memorable in their own right, serve to transition from the past to the larger story’s “present”. Simmons does a masterful job of gradually revealing his universe, each tale focusing in on one aspect of it, while offering more depth or new angles on what we’ve learned from previous tales. It’s a textbook example of how to set up a complex world and its backstory without a lot of expository babble.

It should be noted that Hyperion is really the first half of a larger work, which happens to be split into two novels. There’s barely an ending here, and if you want to find out how all the various plot threads are resolved, you’ll have to read the second book of the pair, The Fall of Hyperion. I didn’t think that book was quite as good -- as often happens in science fiction, a compelling setup doesn’t imply an equally satisfying resolution. But Hyperion itself is so imaginative, it’s worth a read.

As to the audiobook experience, I found the use of different voice actors to play different characters a little distracting, notably the “Darth Vader” voice of one guy, but most of them did a pretty decent job. I particularly liked the boozy, gravelly voice of the actor who played the poet.
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