Visions of Paradise

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Rise of Endymion

In The Rise of Endymion Dan Simmons obviously tried to write an epic equal in scope and complexity to The Fall of Hyperion. While he did not succeed, his aim was high enough that even with the novel’s flaws–and some of them were considerable–there were still enough of Simmons’ strengths that the novel was worthwhile overall. It was basically the story of Aenea’s revolution against the Pax, but it also attempted to tie up all the loose ends left over from the first three novels, loose ends involving the relationship between the TechnoCore–which, although considered destroyed at the end of Fall was revealed as still in existence, merely removed from the visible affairs of humanity–the identity of the Shrike, the fates of characters left dangling as far back as the pilgrimage to Hyperion, the true origin of Aenea, and, finally, the fate of the Pax, the Ousters, and all the other remaining elements of humanity scattered throughout the former Hegemeny.

It’s a very complicated web Simmons has woven, and much of its unraveling was quite fascinating reading and generally successful. Simmons’ universe is still as exotic as it was three novels ago, and his characters are as varied and colorful as always. The dispersal of Aenea’s new religion–the revolution–was quite fascinating and the philosophical heart of the novel. I wish Simmons had spent more time examining its dispersal throughout the former Hegemony than he did.

However, the novel has several notable flaws which prevent it from being totally successful. The leftover baggage from Endymion was too much to overcome. Where Fall was basically an exploration into the very heart and soul of life and death, the entire first half of Rise was basically a war novel concerned primarily with the twin obsessions of the Pax to destroy the Ousters–the “final solution”–and, in collusion with the TechnoCore, to kill Aenea since they decided she was the seed of both their ruination and thus entirely too dangerous to be allowed to live under any circumstances.

In his attempts to keep the suspense level of The Rise of Endymion high, Simmons did a lot of cheating. The majority of the story was told from the point of view of Raul, who not only spent most of his time with Aenea but they became lovers, which causes me to suspect there was a bit of a pun in the novel’s title since they consummated their relationship early in the novel and, after all, his name is Raul Endymion!. Aenea possessed all the information Simmons needed to reveal at the novel’s conclusion for reasons too complicated to explain here. But, considering the series’ heavy mythic overtones, the reasons for her extensive knowledge were mostly acceptable if one suspended disbelief reasonably well. Although Raul narrated both the last two novels late in his life, at the time of the action he knew as little as the reader knew. Thus his enlightenment corresponded directly with the reader’s enlightenment. And how did he learn things? From Aenea who knew everything. Yet whenever he questioned Aenea, as he did quite frequently, she mostly responded by saying, “It’s not time yet, Raul.” Thus the reader was kept in suspense for several hundred pages mostly because Aenea withheld the information from Raul–which was quite strange, considering the closeness of their relationship. One of the facts she never explained to him was the truth about her other marriage and child, which at times nearly tore them apart emotionally, and which he ached desperately to know about, so it served absolutely no purpose for Aenea to conceal the truth from him for several hundred pages, especially since the answer to the mystery was so obvious to the reader it was hardly a mystery at all. Its only purpose was that Simmons was not ready to give away the secrets to the reader yet, so it was convenient for Aenea not to give them away to Raul either, no matter how irrational it was in the context of their relationship. That’s cheating on the part of the author.

And when Simmons was finally ready to reveal information, he did it through the oldest trick in the books: he lectured the reader! Much of Aenea’s revolution required her to serve as the new messiah spreading religious/philosophical beliefs quite opposed to the teachings of the Pax. So throughout the novel she gathered groups of “students” and taught them the truth about their universe, including everything we readers needed to know as well, each lecture concentrating on a different aspect. It was all useful information for readers who waited patiently for answers for over 1,500 pages, but such long, frequent stops in the story’s action did grow tedious at times.

There are other flaws as well. The sudden reappearance of several pilgrims from Hyperion–who supposedly died two centuries previously–with no real valid reason except to strengthen the novel’s mythic resonance. The frequent deus ex machina intrusions which occurred whenever Aenea and Raul got in trouble. Once they escaped through the intervention of the Shrike, another time by the sudden reversion of Father De Soyo from Pax loyalist to moralist, and yet another time by Aenea’s suddenly developing amazing powers that basically contradicted the entire premise of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.

And perhaps most frustrating of all, no matter how hard I tried to believe in Aenea as the spearhead of the new revolution, as the novel progressed she became just too knowing and too saintly. I realize that all messiahs are fonts of knowledge, and Simmons did give Aenea a background where rebel elements of the TechnoCore served as her own teachers while she was still in her mother’s womb, but that doesn’t explain how she knew everything about science and history, even about the lives of most of the supporting characters. Some of it was difficult to accept at the novel’s beginning–after all, she was only a 12 year old kid at that time who was definitely not a god–but as the novel continued she grew even wiser and showed very little self-doubt or weakness, so much so that she came to resemble more of a fictional icon rather than a real living being. And ultimately, that failure weakened the believability of the novel beyond repair.

I also realize that messiahs must perform actions that are not logical in themselves but which satisfy ancient prophesies, but surely Aenea must have had some feelings towards her incredibly painful death rather than blasé acceptance of it.

Granted I am being harsh here, but primarily that is because of the standards Simmons himself set in the first two novels. When an author aims for the highest levels–and he obviously did in The Rise of Endymion as much has he did in The Fall of Hyperion–then he must be graded according to those standards. But a failure on a higher level often still leaves enough positive elements to make the novel worthwhile, which is basically what happened with The Rise of Endymion. Elements of the novel bothered me, since I know they could have been better, but overall I enjoyed it and consider it a partially satisfactory conclusion to the entire Cantos.

So what does all this mean overall for the Hyperion Cantos? If I were grading the novels, I would give Hyperion an A, The Fall of Hyperion A+, Endymion B- (although fans of thrillers might have rated it higher), and The Rise of Endymion B. That’s not a bad overall rating, although I suspect it might have been higher if the order of the novels had been reversed. No matter how one tries to ignore the quality of a predecessor in reading a successor novel, it’s still always there buried somewhere in the back of your mind and damned if you don’t keep longing for the former novel if the latter one is even a bit less in quality.

2 Comments:

  • Wow. I just finished Rise of Endymion and I could not agree more with your review. Very inciteful. I really enjoyed the book, but all of the aspects you discussed- The Deus Ex Machina plot points; Aenea's preachiness;, the use of Raul as an ignorant narrator to prolong the inevitable conclusion; the re-emergence of the original characters simply because of their resonance in the original book; and to me, perhaps most grating- THE FIVE MINUTE WRAP-UP!!! "Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, Step Right UP! Getcha answers here, red hot answers! Everything you wanted to know summed up by the Reluctant Messiah, as seen through the eyes of a precocious teen!" But I still liked it, because obvious flaws aside, when Simmons is on- Baby, that boy is ON. Anyways, thank you for a very intelligent post.

    By Blogger darbpw, At 1:40 PM  

  • I think Simmons should have just told us everything in the first 3 pages and be done with it. How dare he prolong the plot and keep us in suspense? It's almost as if he thinks that's the INTEGRAL PART of the reading experience. It's almost as if he, for some reason, thinks that the characters in his books are unaware of how many pages it takes for them to live off their lives!

    Never have I heard such a sterile analysis of such a colorful and soulful novel. I gather you would like it best to have received the cheat codes to the end, but you should know that there are people who still enjoy the hundreds of pages between the beginning and the end.

    To cut it short: Aenea keeps stuff from Raul because she knows what's going to happen and she does her best to reveal the information at times when it's going to be most impactful. Deus ex machina moments are precisely that, as well they should be, since the whole novel never stops toying with prophetic, predetermined scenarios - that's its base!

    A plastic example, as I feel you need one - it would be the same as if you wondered how come in Terminator 2 Arnold appears just in time to save Sarah. Because he is supposed to!

    Every novel and every author have their flaws, it goes without saying. But you went the extra mile in searching for things to comment on, which is repulsive.

    By Blogger wolfbird, At 1:50 AM  

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