Visions of Paradise

Monday, August 02, 2004

Endymion

Which brings us to the third novel in the Hyperion Cantos, Endymion. About one-fourth of the way through the novel several thoughts entered my head.

• One, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the sequel to one of the finest all-time science fiction novels could possibly equal its predecessor in quality. What writer’s output exists on the same constant level? A writer’s body of work is like the movement of the waves, high tide followed by low tide, tides increasing, then receding endlessly. And it is natural for every writer to have a masterwork, one spectacular work that embodies everything the writer aimed for in a manner unlikely to ever be achieved again. When it occurs too early in a career–Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal and Lord of Light back to back, for example–the writer is then doomed to spend the rest of his career answering the eternal question, “Whatever happened to...?”

• Two, I could not help but be reminded of St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, how the sequel to the thought-provoking and philosophical A Canticle for Leibowitz had replaced thoughtfulness with a routine but well done plotty novel about the interaction between domineering Catholic Church and material powers. Simmons’ sequel seemed headed in a similar direction, so I needed to keep in mind that Miller’s sequel, though far below Canticle in quality, was still worthwhile reading on its own merits. I needed to judge Endymion on its own merits and not based on the standards established in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.

• Three, the first third of Endymion had holes in it sooo big the counsel’s spacecraft could have flown right through them. The whole scenario about She Who Teaches–the twelve-year old daughter of one of the original pilgrims–escaping precisely 274 years into the future by entering the Sphinx had no rationale behind it, nor did the mad poet Martin Silenus’ plan to rescue her from the clutches of hundreds of Church militia waiting for her to exit from the Sphinx. Why did he choose Raul Endymion as his hero anyway? And how could somebody supposedly dead, hiding out from the Church authorities, manage to fake Endymion’s execution and accomplish his escape? And how did they pull off that incredible rescue of She Who Teaches? I mean, an unexpected appearance by the Shrike who hasn’t been seen in nearly three centuries? How the hell did Martin realize the Shrike would be there at all? I could not help but wonder if Simmons was so anxious to begin his long-awaited blockbuster thriller with a boffo thriller sequence–sort of the literary equivalent of how Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas open their blockbuster movies–that he threw logic out the window in favor of *smash bam* action adventure.

• Four, and this is probably a personal gripe that most of you can just ignore, but I’m tired of science fiction novels in which the Catholic Church evolves into a totally repressive, anti-humanistic entity reminiscent of its worst years spanning the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition. In this overly politically correct era there are very few minority or ethnic groups that science fiction writers dare use as villains. White males and the Catholic Church are about the only “acceptable” villainous groups remaining in science fiction, and writers who would never dare use Muslims or ethnic Hindi as a villainous group don’t consider it the least offensive to portray the future Catholic Church as basically an organized terrorist group, and its members either as passive sheep or amoral supporters. And that’s pretty much the image of the Catholic Church portrayed by Simmons in Endymion. The novel opens with the hero Raul Endymion threatened by an obnoxious and amoral businessman wearing the insignia of the Church around his neck. First he almost kills Endymion accidentally–in one of the more ludicrous sequences in the book–and later he deliberately tries to kill him with an outlawed handgun. After Raul disarms him, humiliating him in the process, the businessman’s three Catholic companions all lie at Raul’s trial and the amoral Catholic judge callously sentences Raul to death after refusing to allow him to testify under truth drugs. All because Raul is himself not a member of the Catholic Church! Before the entire series ends, Simmons has the Pax (his name for the future Catholic Church) engage in a Crusade, a revived Inquisition, and–perhaps most insulting of all!–a “final solution” of genocide to eliminate the Ousters (and I still can’t believe Simmons actually used that phrase in his attempts to compare the horrors of the Pax with the horrors of Naxism).

Poor Father Hoyt is treated even worse by Simmons. He was perhaps the most harmless of all the original pilgrims in Hyperion, but in Endymion he has become the evil pope lurking behind the scenes; and the antagonist of the novel is a supposedly moral Jesuit Father Captain De La Soya to whom we are first introduced destroying an entire swarm of harmless humans. *sigh*

Endymion did not change immediately after that beginning. Where The Fall of Hyperion was a thoughtful novel in the guise of a thriller, Endymion was almost exclusively a thriller concerned with the exploits of Father Captain De La Soya chasing She Who Teaches and her small entourage across the galaxy, trying desperately to capture her for the Church for no reason that was explained very well except the Church’s irrational belief that she is a danger to them. As I stated above, her first escape was due to the deus ex machina appearance of the Shrike; the second was slightly more believable as the twelve-year old girl brazenly bluffed her way past De La Soya’s military; the third was even more deus ex machina as the ship descended to planet level under the watchful eyes of the military, then miraculously vanished through a farcaster portal across the galaxy–oh, yeah, did I tell you that in the climax of The Fall of Hyperion, as part of the cataclysmic changes which took place in human space, all farcasters were permanently destroyed as humanity shook off the yoke of the TechnoCore totally? So why the heck did one of them abruptly and conveniently work again?

The chase continued for 400+ pages. Keeping in mind the ebbs and tides in a writer’s career, and the fact that I am not a fan of thrillers per se, it was relatively interesting, especially in the scenes where Aenea–She Who Teaches–and her companions visit a series of former Hegemeny worlds three centuries after the Fall. But then the novel abruptly took a change for the worse– and, for me it was a big change–with the introduction of a new character named Rhadamanth Nemes who is basically a comic book super-villain accompanying Father De La Soya. Able and willing to kill at will, she does so, ruthlessly killing 24 innocent people in her first real scene in the book for no reason other than perverse pleasure. She is able to immediately find Aenea’s destination because somehow–miraculously!–she is able to tap into the farcasters which only work for Aenea and learn where they are sending her and even where they will send her in the future. By this point, with less than 100 pages to go in the novel, I was ready to give it up completely. But I persevered. After all, this is Dan Simmons and this is the sequel to The Fall of Hyperion.

And then, abruptly at about the 500 page mark, things abruptly changed again, only this time for the better. A conversation between Aenea and her companions revealed information about the TechnoCore that put a new light on previous events, including the abilities of Nemes. Some clever detective work by Father De La Soya revealed a bit more and his moral side began eroding his loyalty to the Pax. The overall effect of all this is that what had been an almost mindless thriller riddled with holes was evolving into a complex mystery with explanations looming for some of the holes. And many of the questions which had been raised in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion seemed as if they might have answers looming on the horizon. It seemed as if Simmons was setting himself up for a more thoughtful, complete sequel, but why the hell did it take him 500 pages to decide all of this? Anyway, suddenly I found myself waiting anxiously for the conclusion of the entire saga.

6 Comments:

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    Bill Adams

    By Blogger Bill Adams, At 7:37 PM  

  • Thank you Bill Adams for this GREAT DEAL, but you're completely out of scope.

    Serious matters are being investigated here *cough* ;-), so don't bother us with your silly patriotic gifts.

    Plus I always wondered how you guys imagine bringing liberty to people by killing them...

    By Blogger Daneel Olivaw, At 12:53 PM  

  • I sure hope you've finished this book and The Rise of Endymion. If so, it is likely that you will take back what you have said... : P I hope you bore through the books so you can understand what I mean. I was really skeptical, too. It sounds strange, but I JUST finished Rise of Endymion, and I'm just seeking some common ground on it. If you have finished the Cantos, email me and tell me what you thought. Even as I type this, it feels lame, but I suppose I don't care. : D

    movement.in.green@gmail.com

    Peace

    By Blogger Ricky, At 10:03 PM  

  • Good writing! Iloved Hyperion, and the Fall too. Almost finished Endymion. Simmons is a brilliant writer.

    By Blogger Barbara, At 7:50 AM  

  • Great post. I loved Hyperion, and the Fall too. Almost finished with Endymion. Simmons is a brilliant writer. Altough I usualy do'nt like romans, with too much fantasy,but this Shrike thing somehow got me.

    By Blogger Barbara, At 7:55 AM  

  • While I mostly agree with your third point, it didn't really bother me that much. However, some of your gripes in your fourth point are addressed in The Rise of Endymion, such as why the farcasters worked suddenly after 270 some odd years, and why Aenea was a threat to the Pax and why the church was trying to capture her. I don't see the Shrike as a deus ex machina - the Shrike was a construct of the UI, which could send it back in time to any point, apparently. And what with the Shrike being a well established plot device, for it to show up handily shouldn't come as a surprise.

    The origin and purpose of Nemes is also explained in more detail in The Rise of Endymion. And this must be obvious to you, as your ending paragraph suggests, and I hope you finished the series with a sense of satisfaction. And although my opinion is that the second two books aren't nearly as good as the first two, overall I thought it was a good yarn, worthy of several re-reads over the years. I'm reading it again now, and am halfway through the last book.

    By Blogger Elias Ashley Davis, At 1:30 PM  

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