Visions of Paradise

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Olympos is the story of the war between the mortals and the gods. Normally such a war would be a one-sided, likely one-day affair except the Greeks had some serious help. First were the moravecs with their force shields and advanced weapons on the same level of technology as that of the gods; next were certain Greek heroes who were half-gods themselves, such as Ulysses who fought single combat with a different god each day, always winning because of his legendary invulnerability.

Just like Ilium, much of Olympos consists of two mysteries, the first being the root of the gods’ amazing powers (which is not difficult to figure out early in Ilium) and the second being what the heck is going on with all the overlapping threads? The moravec are equally-interested in solving both mysteries, and in effect the most important of the book’s several narrators is Mahnmut, a cute little moravec with a fascination with William Shakespeare. Of course politics are important too. Agamemnon was the Greek king until he was defeated by Ulysses who, upon taking power, formed a truce with Trojan leader Hektor to fight against the gods. Now Agamemnon wants to regain power and make peace with the gods, resuming the war against Troy. He finds surprising support from a group of Amazon women who arrive at the scene determined to kill Ulysses.

While all three portions–Greek heroes, struggling humans, moravecs–of Olympos are interesting, it is all a bit confusing at times. For much of the book I was never sure if the Greek gods lived on Olympos Mons on Mars or Mount Olympus on Earth, or how they were able to flit back and forth between planets. And were the ancient warriors futuristic recreations of the original Greek and Trojan heroes, or somehow transported from the past into the future, or was their battle actually taking place 3,000 years ago? It did not seem as if these were part of the mysteries waiting to be solved, but were supposedly explained during the progress of the book but, at least in my instance, not successfully.

Simmons also wallows in blood and gore during the war between the mortals and the gods, moreso than I really enjoyed. My eyes tended to glaze a bit during those scenes which neither added to nor held back from the rest of the story much.

The Earth portion of Olympos reads like a post-apocalyptic thriller, as it is primarily concerned with the struggle for survival of a group of humans (led by Ada and Daemon) against the apparently attempt of the world’s voynix to kill all humans. With the failure of the ancient and mysterious technology, life on Earth has become virtually neolithic as the pampered humans learn to survive on their own, a struggle which becomes considerably more difficult when the voynix, their former robotic-like servants, become predatory.

Meanwhile the moravecs are speeding to Earth on their mysterious mission to save the solar system while Daemon goes on another travelogue with mysterious supernatural-seeming entities who, like Savi, seem to know a lot more about what is really happening on Earth and Mars, but are unwilling to reveal much to him.

Olympos takes much of the myth out of the Trojan War as the true nature of the gods becomes apparent, but life and civilization on Earth has become so altered from our era that it takes on a mythological quality itself. Beings such as Ariel, Caliban, Prospero, and Sycorax are totally inhuman beings who are somehow pulling all the threads in the novel, as Daemon and the moravecs strive to learn why and, in the case of the evil ones, how to stop them. At times Simmons’ tendency to spring surprises on the reader overwhelms the story as if he has created them so much for their emotional effect that he has really not planned out any logical framework for the novel, but instead is making the story up as he goes along. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on whether he can actually pull all the threads together in the end. But there are so many threads interwoven by halfway through Olympos–such as what happened to Hockenberry who mysteriously disappeared a few hundred pages ago?–that it is easy to wonder if that is actually possible at this point.

The least satisfying part of Olympos is the second journey of Harman–Ada’s husband–whose activities are manipulated totally by the mythological group of beings–Prospero, Ariel, the mysterious Moira–for their own purposes in an almost senseless manner. Why does he need to walk all the way from the Mediterranean to North America through the “Atlantic Breach,” which is a parting of the ocean a la The Ten Commandments? And why for Christ sake does he spend time investigating a sunken nuclear sub, knowing it is radioactive and that spending too much time inside it will kill him, so that–sure enough!– he becomes radioactive and spends much of the book’s climax undergoing a painful, messy death?

As Olympos nears its climax, Simmons attempts to pull all of his dangling threads together in a scene in which one of the moravecs racing toward Earth suddenly realizes what everything means. And it does explain the overarching storyline somewhat, but too many of the little threads are still left hanging. We never really learn the motivation of Earth’s mythological beings, nor the reasons behind a lot of what happened previously. For example, why did the voynix go berserk abruptly? Simmons concocts something about all surviving humans having some Jewish blood, which they had for millennia without the voynix previously getting into a snit over it. And the manner in which both the Greek and Trojan warriors are rescued from the warring gods and titans (yes, the war shifted halfway through Olympos) and how the few surviving humans are rescued from the voynix, calibani, and evil Sycorax are all blatant examples of deus ex machina which might be fitting in a novel totally devoted to humans’ dealings with gods, but not necessarily satisfying.

And the last chapter, which shows the aftermath of all the numerous characters who crowded Ilium and Olympos is suddenly a bit too suburban normal to feel comfortable.

In spite of all these complaints, I enjoyed reading these two novels overall. They held a lot of surprises, a lot of wonder, and a lot of exotic characters, but they would have been ultimately more satisfying if Simmons had repressed the special effects a bit in favor of a more coherent storyline. On my rating scale, I give it a B-.


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