Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this for my SF book club. It's not the sort of book I would've normally picked up, and it took me forever to slog through, but it wasn't a total waste of time. Its lack of an ending is frustrating, though.

Hyperion echoes Canterbury Tales, in that it's a collection of stories told by different people on a pilgrimage. Having never read the latter, I can't say how they compare, beyond that. I only recognized the superficial similarities.

The literary allusions don't stop with Chaucer. Nineteenth century poetry plays a role in the story, and Keats comes up continuously. The six stories told within the narrative cross genres, echoing tropes of military SF, pulp mystery, and classic exploration SF, among others.

Unfortunately, the frame story is thin. Seven pilgrims are journeying to see the Shrike, for reasons explained in each of their tales. The trip has few surprises and a lot of info dumps. None of those info dumps illuminate the reader as to what all the jargon means. Every once in a while, a term is explained, but it's often one I could've figured out in context. The pointlessness to the padding around the six stories is highlighted when the main goal isn't even reached by the end of the book. It turns out to be little more than a prequel for The Fall of Hyperion. I'm told they're improved if viewed as two parts of the same book, but I would have given up long before the middle if this had been part of one doorstopper of a novel.

I think a lot of my problem with the pacing was that I didn't particularly care about any of the narratives until the last few. The story of Sol Weintraub and his young child was the first time I felt invested in anyone's success. Brawne Lamia's story intrigued me with its use of pulpish tropes, and hooked me with its characterizations and how technology was woven into the story. It was with Brawne's story that I finally started to understand some of the terms that had been bandied about all book. Too bad it was so near the end.

Many of the stories felt padded. In particular, the poet, Martin Silenus, struck me as taking up far too much of the narrative. His section may well have been just as long as anyone else's, but it dragged. In an attempt to sound poetic, he wound up a purple prose blowhard. I was outraged at his abuse of the English language. Surely a poet has more respect for words than to stuff them all onto the page until the right one emerges.

None of the other stories particularly resonated with me, either. Colonel Kassad has an interesting space battle in the middle of his story, but it does nothing to explain why he's there. If anything, his narrative would explain why he might want to stay far, far away. Father Hoyt's story packed a punch at the very end, but its droning monotony was no way to start this book. And the Consul's story may well have explained his presence there, but his plan sounds muddled and needlessly complicated. And his eagerness to share the details of his grandparents having sex creeped me out. Personally, I would've found a way to edit that part out, if it were my grandparents.

And yet, despite all the stalling and padding, I didn't hate the book. I did have to admire the craft, the worldbuilding, and the way the narrative was tied together. As overwhelming as the numerous technologies and changes were, it did make the world feel less like set dressing and more like an immersion.

I debated at length about whether I wanted to read the second book. Do I care about Sol and Brawne that much? My book club tells me it's far more straightforward than this book, and it answers my questions. So, I will be reading The Fall of Hyperion at some point. We'll see if it redeems this book, as well.

But not anytime soon. There are a lot of books I'd rather read first.

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