Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This is a continuation and fleshing out of a twitter thread that I wrote as part of the #mathsscifibookgroup. As expected with one of my reviews, there will be spoilers below be warned.

This is the tweet in question:

Hyperion is a sci-fi book that uses a lot of mathematical language and hence qualified as a mathematical sci-fi book. It was published in 1989 and is the first of the Hyperion Cantos. Many of you, at this point, will have realised that it seems to have a link with poetry. It does indeed! John Keats, an English poet, has many connections with the books as the principal city in the books is named Keats, and there is a cybrid that is his caricature. 

The book is structured into a collection of short stories which are interleaved with the main story. For me, the repeated action of being hooked into a short story and unhooked as it ended detracted from the experience.  As you read the book, you realise it is populated by stock characters; the academic is quiet and reserved, the poet is loud and philosophical, and the military man always carries a weapon. They are all very much ‘Commedia Dell’arte’ as they behave in specific ways. It is not until you read their individual stories that you see their quirks and differences, and they become more three dimensional.

The Man Who Cried God – A priest travelled to a remote religious village, he met a savage tribe infected by an alien lifeform, he soon got infected and then sacrificed himself to not spread on the lifeform. The lifeform passed on to a visitor, and he died in vain. It shared a resemblance with His Dark Materials, but without the similar language enabling the visualisations that make them so unique. Hence making many settings seem identical and repetitive. Throughout the story, I think Simmons was trying to show the differentiation between distinct parts of the church, and he did this very effectively, mainly how radicalised religion can spread so very quickly.

The War Lovers followed Kassad’s struggle with his work life, having been forced into it, and inner conflicts with a mysterious love interest. Kassad travelled to the ‘Tree of Life’, where he found his enlightenment and became a man of peace. I found some discomfort in reading this story, mainly due to the over accentuated use of physical intimacy. I felt that this was unnecessary, the explicit details could have been left to the reader to fill in if they were so inclined to do so. The strengths of the story lie where the inner conflict and the struggle were portrayed. Kassad’s battle takes place in a surreal setting. Yet, we still sympathise with his striving for happiness for we all share our human condition.

The Hyperion Cantos – follows a poet who is taken from Old Earth when it is sucked into a black hole and sent to Hyperion. He releases a book about Old Earth and instantly becomes a best-selling writer. He lives a life of luxury, leading him to money problems. After having authored several books purely to pay off his debt he moves to a writer’s town, becoming the King’s poet. When the town is ravaged by the Shrike, only the poet remains. Parts of the story relied heavily on cryptic metaphors. The purpose was to establish Silenius’ superiority, however, for me, it detracted from this section of the book making, it less enjoyable. The story portrayed a classic version of fall from fame, the familiarity of which seeming slightly less upsetting when Silenius succumbs to that fate. It is apparent throughout the story that money is the primary driver and simultaneously his main downfall. The contrast in this story is Sad King Billy, we hear of him in previous stories and his flimsy ways, however, when the time comes in this story, he steps up. He becomes an excellent leader the people need and abandon Silenius. The King must make, as most of us do at some points in our lives, the big choice that loomed over him. Much like the illusion of control, in the face of COVID-19, where people choose to believe that it won’t happen to them. The King must decide with the weight of the lives of the people in the town, without knowing what the outcome will be.

The River Lethe’s Taste is Bitterfollowed a young archaeologist, Sol the academic’s daughter, as she fell ill under an un-ageing disease inflicted upon her by the Shrike. Through her journey back to childhood, she lost her personality. We soon find out that this was the baby that Sol carries with him. After losing his wife, Sol was left making the difficult decision of whether to sacrifice his daughter to the Shrike to hopefully cure her. The River Lethe is a link to Ancient Greek mythology. It is one of the five rivers in the Greek underworld of Hades, also known as ‘the river of un-mindfulness’. The river flowed around the cave of Hypnos, related to sleep. All that drank from it forgot their past. In Ancient Greek, the word Lethe (λήθη) means oblivion, forgetfulness, or un-concealment. Simmons says rather brutally that ageing, death and for some people memory loss is inevitable. He uses links to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to show this. However, I took something less morbid away, I saw it as a reminder to cherish every moment with the people you care about because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Finally, Simmons sprinkles in a final message about a cure. He offered a binding ceremony to the parents through a vision during a dream. He never resolves this part of the story, hinting at the fact that there is no cure for ageing or memory loss diseases, whether from radicalised religious affairs or chemical means.

The Long Good-ByeBrawne Lamia was a private detective who fell in love with her AI client. Under threat, they had to take the AI off the network and turn him into the most human an AI had ever been to escape. Finally, the authorities found what they had been doing and pursued them. The story ended in a crescendo of guns, fighting and death. Simmons, again, uses strong links to Greek Mythology and John Keats. Brawne Lamia is a mixture of the surname of Keats’ fiancée and Lamia, the blind child-eating monster from Greek Mythology. It is evident from this naming and her behaviour that Simmons wants us to be impassive towards Brawne. Despite this, Brawne’s love story is the best depicted of the novel. As always, this story produces an ethical debate. Simmons puts forward the idea of uploading the dead into machines. The computers in Hyperion very obviously pass the Turing test, so if concealed, they would be indistinguishable from humans. He suggests the idea that the AI’s, despite being emotional constructs, wouldn’t be accepted into society by those resistant to greater intelligent life than themselves.

Remembering SiriMerin, the grandfather of the Consul, fell in love with an islander, Siri. He travelled back and forth between the web for work, leaving Siri behind, building up a considerable time debt. He spent a large amount of time off planet; we see the times he returned to the island. Siri very quickly aged, and before the time Merin was middle-aged she died. This story was a beautiful but upsetting love story. It was sad to see how the love of the two characters never changed but how Merin was losing Siri, and he was unaware of it. This story reinforced a theme that runs through the whole book, that time travel can eat away at the things that matter. It is as if the things that matter are a leaf and time travel is the caterpillar continuously chomping away at them. In this story, when the caterpillar has finally finished its meal, we are left with the very unnatural and uncomfortable scene of Merin outliving his wife and being half the age of his children. There was an epilogue to this story, where there was a war which explained the link between Siri and the Consul. This was done awfully, due to the confusion in the style, which reverted to a style similar to the poets.

The Main Story – The main story followed the bearers of the stories and Het Masteen through Hyperion. The story moved through many settings, which were flawlessly set. The main story was the crux of the book, although it was split and disjointed, it held everything together. It was amazingly written, and I enjoyed it. However, the way it was written made it feel hard to follow. By the time I read the next story, I had needed a refresher of what happened before. I shan’t taint every section with the same brush, as parts did have that refresher I wanted or even finished an entire plot point. The ending was infuriating because I just wanted to know what happened next and the book denied that to me. I suppose it is more reason to read the next book!

In conclusion, it was brilliant! Although it may seem I have ripped this poor book to shreds, I enjoyed it. Being almost a code to crack in places only added to the charm and character of the book. It was one of the best books I have read this year, although there are some excellent contenders there; Stovak’s Calculus being one of them!

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