Visions of Paradise

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Fall of Hyperion

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Dan Simmons’ The Fall of Hyperion is one of the very finest–perhaps the finest–science fiction novels every written! It takes the foundation laid in Hyperion and weaves into an even more wondrous tale. Let me explain some of the reasons I consider it such a rousing success:

• The novel is quite intricately plotted, with storylines interwoven with storylines that individually could carry an entire novel; woven together they create a tapestry so rich and wondrous it was an absolute delight to read. While reading it I wondered how Simmons could possibly tie all the storylines together at the end without it all being forced or unreal. Somehow he pulled it off in a manner that was both satisfying and yet still maintained the sense of wonder that permeated the entire novel.

• The background universe which Simmons created in Hyperion is more fully explored, providing sensory treats throughout. Consider the farcasting system of transportation which unites worlds lightyears apart and enables the extremely rich to build their houses spread across several worlds. Or the exotic religions which co-exist peacefully throughout the Web until the climactic invasion of the entire Web by outside invaders. Or the fantastic worlds themselves, most notably Hyperion which reveals more of its wonders throughout this second volume. If Simmons could not plot at all, or create a single vivid character, the wonders of his background universe would still make the novel a delight to read.

• The artificial intelligence Core was first spawned by humans centuries ago when they created their computers and kept pushing them farther and farther from pure machines into true AI. At one point those intelligences rebelled and broke away from humans to form their own level of existence far beyond the ken of humanity. But they maintained one aspect of humanity in that they were not a united entity but consisted of warring factions: the Ultimates devoting themselves to creating the Ultimate Intelligence–their god, if you will; the Volatiles agreeing with that goal but seeing no need to be hindered by the existence of humans, thus desiring to destroy them all; and the Stables who compromised between the two other factions and thus kept humans alive. The Core is one of the main “characters” in the novel which is examined quite closely and it is a rich, pulsating place that astounds each time we enter it.

• The fascinating characters! Besides the pilgrims from Hyperion continuing their cosmic quest, we meet a whole other cast of characters, including many people struggling to protect the Web against invasion by the Ousters, who are humans who fled the Web millenia ago to form a civilization far different from that of the Web and who have now returned to invade the Web and threaten its billions of citizens. The two most important characters are Meina Gladstone, the chief executive who leads the struggle against the Ousters on one hand, but seems to have much more important concerns about the entire future of humanity on the other; and Joseph Severn, a creation of the Core imbued with the essence of poet John Keats and who serves as the novel’s narrator since he witnesses events in the government firsthand and events on Hyperion through his dreams. We learn as he learns.

• In many ways, The Fall of Hyperion was constructed like a historical epic rich in mythic overtones throughout, sort of like The Iliad transposed into the far future. An important aspect of both novels was the Hyperion Cantos, an epic poem describing the historical events leading up to the pilgrimage, the actual pilgrimage itself, and the political situation encompassing it. Martin Silenus, one of the pilgrims, was not only the author of the Cantos but struggled to complete it throughout the two volumes, providing both novels with an even stronger sense of epic mythos.

• In addition to the novel’s intricate plotting, richly developed setting, well-developed characters, and full-throttle pacing, it also had twin themes that were woven so strongly through both novels that Simmons left no doubt they were the purpose the novels were written and everything else was just window dressing. Those themes were death and the search for deity. The Fall of Hyperion examines the death and resurrection of both humans and artificial intelligences as well as the possible death of civilization itself while examining both the need and the method used by humans and artificial intelligences to seek the ultimate intelligence, that is, God.

• The more levels that a novel works on, the more satisfactory the eventual payoff. As I indicated above, The Fall of Hyperion strives for and mostly succeeds on several levels: it’s a sense of wonder extravaganza filled with fascinating, well-developed people in whom we have deep emotional stakes, but it is also plotted like a thriller–what will be the outcome of the war? What is Meina Gladstone really planning and how is the Core involved in it? And what is the purpose of the pilgrimage on Hyperion and, perhaps more importantly, what will be the eventual fates of those pilgrims?–but with both thought-provoking themes that examine important human concerns that certainly qualify it as great literature, and also provocative sense of wonder that qualifies it equally as great science fiction. It is rare indeed when a novel–or, in this case, a pair of novels–can succeed so well on both levels. And while the novel’s ending is a climactic–as well as cataclysmic–one, there is indeed room for a sequel since Simmons leaves us with a much-changed universe and the promise of a new messiah. I for one could not wait to learn what he had in mind for both of them.

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