Ryan's Reviews > Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
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Feb 22, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, fic-speculative
Read from February 22 to 28, 2012 , read count: 1

Hyperion, a book I first read in college and couldn't put down, has always been high on the list of science fiction I've recommended to others. Coming back to it years later, in audio form, I found that it still earns that honor.

This is dark space opera in peak form, with vivid writing, well-realized characters, and a futuristic universe that's imaginative but familiar. It also has one of science fiction's most memorable monsters, the weird, mysterious Shrike, a spike-covered metal creature that dwells on the surface of the backwater planet of Hyperion, and can appear and disappear at will, sometimes sowing death among travelers, sometimes not appearing for decades.

The story Dan Simmons has to tell is brilliantly eclectic, drawing on literary references from Golden Age sci-fi to Keats to William Gibson to the medieval Canterbury Tales. Seven characters, from different walks of life, are all chosen for a final pilgrimage to the strange Time Tombs on Hyperion, before an incoming invasion fleet of barbarian post-humans who live between the stars cuts the planet off from the rest of civilization. Each pilgrim has some reason for making the journey and each holds a few clues about the larger mystery, which are gradually revealed as the pilgrims share their separate tales.

And what tales they are, cleverly using different styles of narrative and voice to build up a complex universe. The story fragmentation reminded me a little of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, except, here, everyone’s in the same timeline. The Priest's Tale, which has one Father Dure on a mission to the strange descendants of some lost colonists, is a riveting campfire horror tale. Next comes the pulse-racing Warrior’s Tale, following Colonel Kassad through his training and into a battle for his life against the barbarian Ousters, whom the higher-ups had woefully underestimated. The Bukowski-in-space Poet’s Tale (played with boozy aplomb by the audiobook voice actor) and the haunting Scholar’s Tale are little more unconventional for science fiction, but just as dark and good. The rest are less memorable in their own right, but serve to connect the backstories to the present. Not every reader will enjoy the conspicuous literary track switching, but I love seeing a novel’s world from wildly different angles, so it worked for me.

Unfortunately, there really isn't much of an ending, per se. Simmons apparently realized he couldn't wrap it all up in one book, and simply stops at a convenient rest area. The next one, The Fall of Hyperion, continues on from the same point, but is written in a more workmanlike way, without the same intimacy and stylistic panache of the “tales”, and so didn’t quite have the same magic for me. That said, it’s still a decent story, and you’ll probably want to find out how everything concludes (sort of -- two more books in the same universe were published later). Hyperion, though, is excellent.

As to the audiobook experience, the cast of voice actors did a pretty decent job, though I found the way they would sometimes alternate speaking roles on a paragraph-by-paragraph level a little distracting.
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