Dan Simmons: Hyperion

Hyperion
Dan Simmons
502 pages
First published 1989

A year or two back, Greg Bear was in town promoting his latest book (Queen of Angels). At one point Bear was talking about the new hot-shots in the field. In a single breath he mentioned Bill Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Dan Simmons. "A-ha" your intrepid reviewer (a Gibson & Sterling fan) said to himself, "a new author to try". So the aforementioned reviewer set out (intrepidly) to purchase Hyperion, the first of many Dan Simmons novels he has since read and enjoyed.

Half way through the first sentence of the prologue to Hyperion, you will realise that it is going to be nothing like anything to come out of Gibson's sprawl or anywhere else in the "cyberpunk" universe. In fact the first sentence is quite daunting - it contains 38 words of which a disconcertingly large number are adjectives. To illustrate the point, try this sentence also from the prologue: "Bruise-black clouds silhouetted a forest of giant gymnosperms while stratocumulus towered nine kilometres high in a violent sky." However the style soon settles down a bit, so that rather than being florid, it becomes descriptive and evocative.

As far as the story goes, it concerns a disparate group of characters on a type of pilgrimage to the "time tombs" of the planet Hyperion. As the seven travellers make their way towards the tombs they tell their stories and how they came to be on this journey. The stories actually make up a sizeable portion of the book as they intermingle with the story of the journey. Hanging over the action there is a sense of menace with the threat of the deadly guardian of the tombs and an invasion fleet poised to strike.

So far, so ordinary. What really sets this work apart from the pack is the way it traps your attention and does not let go. The characters and the scenes are drawn in such detail and clarity that the reader is drawn into the mood of the book and held there. It should come as no surprise that Simmons writes a pretty mean horror story. For those of you who need a comparison, this work has much in common with Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. They share the same the same richly detailed setting, the same riveting prose style and the both have a meandering plot with many diversions.

Simmons himself has become hot property these days. Over the past few years he has collected a hatful of awards and a great deal of critical acclaim. Hyperion won the 1990 Hugo award and the Locus award for best SF novel. One final word of warning about Hyperion - make sure that you have the sequel close by. Hyperion only takes you part of the way and when you read it, you will want to read Fall of Hyperion immediately afterwards. Perhaps you might like to take a deep breath first - its that kind of book.

Overall rating: Eating a Toot Sweet chocolate pizza on your own.

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