Hyperion

Monday, October 19, 2009


 Hyperion
Dan Simmons, 1989


There are lots of reasons to like Hyperion.  The form is intriguing, the characters complicated, the plot mysterious, and the prose lovely.  But aside from all that, I'm glad I read Hyperion because it gives me more ammunition in my long-standing fight to prove that The Time Traveler's Wife is a pointless book.

One of the main conceits in Hyperion is "time-debt".  Time-debt is what happens to people who travel via FTL drive (somewhat adorably called Hawking Drive), as they enter a kind of stasis and age slower than people who stay on planets or travel via a kind of tele-portals.  So if your friend travels to a distant world and back, you will end up many years older than the traveler.  In several of the novellas which make up the backbone of the novel, this disconnect between those who go and those who stay behind is explored beautifully.  This is a good, emotionally effective use of time "travel", even though it's only one way.  The final novella is a far better romantic time-problem story than that previously named piece of feather-weight lit.  (Okay, I have a grudge.  And TTTW was way way overrated.)

I had read a few pieces by Simmons previously.  I liked Ilium and Olympos, they were very weird, but intriguing.  So I thought I'd pick up what seems to be his most acclaimed book (and a Hugo winner.)

I got 25 pages in and went, "Oh, I get it, it's The Canterbury Tales, IN SPACE."  That is not intended as a derogatory remark.  The frame story works well, and since each character's tale is intended as the answer to the question 'why are you on the pilgrimage?' (which is usually fatal), each one builds on the previous to create a progressively clearer view of their world, and its potential turning point. 

It's not all drama and SF ideas (and literary references, obscure and less so, and religious and moral philosophizing).  The Soldier's Tale, in particular, takes a sudden left turn into highly visceral descriptions of sex and violence, which mostly startled me because I was reading on the subway at the time.  Now, I read romance and such on the subway, but I like to have a little warning.  I read a criticism of this novel that it's sexist, and I will say that there are not a ton of good female characters, and while the tough lady cop who's one of the tale-tellers is cool, her tale is, well, it has ups and downs, and the technobabble (and explanation-babble) within I found the least interesting. 

I'll admit, unless your book is really really fascinating, I'm not going to do outside research which seems to be applicable to the plot (I might seek out additional information if I'm interested enough in the original subject, for example I went to the South Street Seaport Museum when I was into naval history, reading the Aubrey-Maturin series).  But it felt like I was missing something in this book, despite what seemed like adequate explanation.  If you can't give me enough infodump to understand the plot, I'm a little disappointed.  I'm not going to research romantic poetry for background to read a sci-fi novel.  Even a really "literary" sci-fi novel.

Now it's entirely possible that I wasn't missing anything, but I didn't, by the end, completely understand the relevance of the planet Hyperion.  On the other hand, I didn't think this was an obstacle to enjoying the novel.  I read what various characters hypothesized, and in the end there was a certain amount of faith involved that the planet - and the creature - that the characters are moving toward is important.  It's unfathomable, and I can get into that.  The characters themselves don't understand it, but they're hoping to.  Whatever happens (in Book Two), they might affect the course of the future, or even of the past (given all the time stuff.)  I found the ending suitable.  It could be argued it's a bit of a cliff-hanger for the next book, but I found it satisfying in itself, mystical, funny and dark, both bleak and hopeful.  The whole book is kind of like that.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

2 comments:

Alexander said...

You had me at "Canterbury Tales IN SPACE."

Also, how was the South Street Seaport Museum?

Lindsay said...

I enjoyed it immensely. It's small, but inexpensive to get in, so fair. The boats are fun, but I think my favorite thing may have been a room where they played film taken on a voyage the Peking (docked outside) took around Cape Horn in 1929. The footage is awesome.

The internet tells me it was released as a documentary in 1985 called Around Cape Horn.

Filmmaker: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Johnson

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