Why You Should (or Should Not) Read . . .
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Del Rey | 1989 | 978-0-399-17861-0 | 481pages
First in a series | Reviewed by Todd Galitz
You could think of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion as a stealth classic. While it doesn’t get the love that, say, Issac Asimov’s Foundation or Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticles of Leibowitz does, most readers will find it reminiscent of these two. Or, to put it another way, it combines the grand vision of Issac Asimov’s space opera while emulating Walter M. Miller Jr.’s combination of characterization and plot. Though of the two, it is closer to Canticles; it has the same balance of character v plot, the same manner of explaining its grand vision through the experiences and trials of its protagonists. Like many classics, this work can be read on two level; in this case either simply as a space mystery, or, as a reflection on how people relate to the universe and how we might react when we find we are not necessarily the ones in control of our own fate.
Structured similarly to the Canterbury Tales, it tells the tale of seven pilgrims who are thrown together through circumstances beyond their control to undertake a quest of understanding, a quest which they believe may well end in their deaths. Along the voyage, each pilgrim has a chance to tell their tale; Dan Simmons turns this into a kind of game in which each very different character (as well as the reader) must try to figure out what each other character brings to this tale. This is not the only way in which the reader may question what is going on, as Dan Simmons seems intent on relentlessly prodding the reader into asking what this tale is about. While it is clear there is indeed a point, the reader never has enough information to make an informed guess about what is going on. In this way, Hyperion seems to be equal parts 1930s film noir and 1950s Science Fiction novel. It is partially written from the omnipotent viewpoint (at the start of each section,) and partly narrated by the main character spotlighted in each section. Although this could have been jarring, Dan Simmons handles the transitions well, mainly since the characters are written in the third person.
After you finish reading it, it will linger in your mind, which is just what a classic should do. So why is it not more recognizable? Like Foundation and Canticles, Dan Simmons clearly has a vision, though in this case, that vision is greatly obscured behind the narration. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for a more challenging read. The plot of Hyperion is messy and complicated; like life, it challenges the reader to work at understanding what the point of the story is.
Why You Should Read
Engaging and exciting
You should enjoy being an active reader, thinking about puzzles, where the plot is going etc . . .
Why You Should Not Read
Reader must be willing to deal with an intentionally obscure plot
Graphic violence and sex may not be suitable for all readers