Simmons, Dan. The Hyperion Cantos:
  Hyperion (1989)
  The Fall of Hyperion (1990)
  Endymion (1996)
  The Rise of Endymion (1997)

Reviewed 18 April 1998

Hyperion (cover)
Fall of Hyperion (cover)
Endymion (cover)
Rise of Endymion (cover)
The Canterbury Tales in space. Deep, ambiguous speculations on theology and bloodchilling space battles in the same books. Character development. A look at the relationship beween means and ends . . . especially when one doesn't know the ends. Keats, Byron, Shelley, the nature of poetic creation. This is a very challenging and extremely well-done series that doesn't lapse into seriesitis.

The first book, Hyperion, introduces us to a culture that is completely dependent upon a combination of instantaneous communication and relatively slow physical transport. The overt structure of the book starts with The Canterbury Tales: travellers tellings their life stories as evening entertainment on a pilgrimmage. Simmons succeeds in showing us that, despite the instantaneous means of communication, the characters are not really communicating at all—without rubbing our noses in it.

The lack of communication, both among the pilgrims and with the outside world, dooms the pilgrimmage to (apparent) failure. The Fall of Hyperion picks up this theme and destroys the means of communication in some of the best-realized space battle scenes I've read. M. Simmons clearly did his homework: the battle scenes are both strategically and tactically plausible. Meanwhile, he has slipped in a complete change in viewpoint, with some rather unexpected consequences.

Destruction of the means of communication essentially destroys the society. Quite naturally, religion tries to assert itself as the controlling factor. Endymion presents an intertwined story of theological justifications for the exercise of political power, the creation of that political power, Inquisition, a priest's crisis of faith, the nature of prophets and prophecy, and two distinct adolescences.

The Rise of Endymion revisits all of the themes in Endymion. Although it won't be apparent upon a casual reading, Rise doubles the structure of Endymion up to the climax of both books. This time the adolescents grow to adulthood. The ending is a bit frantic in tying off loose ends, but I can hardly blame an author whose ultimate subject is evolution toward the Omega Point for tying off loose ends!

This series challenges readers without pedantry. It's not for the media-property reader, but for the thoughtful reader. At times, the violence is a bit graphic and excessive, at least while immersed in the books. The violence fades a bit to the background in the context of the whole series.

M. Simmons engages in excellent, consistent world-building, and then takes an all-too-rare step: he evolves his own creation. Too many speculative fiction writers--Heinlein being among the biggest culprits--just create their own worlds and stop them, or at best show a single technological or social change over a long time span. The Hyperion Cantos avoid this trap by continuously evolving along multiple technological and sociological fronts. This evolution isn't perfect; the arts, for example, seem rather static. The amazement about this particular talking dog is that it talks at all, let alone does so well.

Overall rating: 5
stars
Outstanding.
M. Simmons's vision is superior to the average—and even the above-average—science fiction series. The end of the last volume is a bit frantic in its tying up of loose ends, but it's hard to criticize an author who actually bothers to do so, and the frantic pace at the end is no different from the remainder.


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  • You can buy these books on-line through Powell's Books. At this writing, they're available least-expensively as follows:

    Hyperionpaperback
    The Fall of Hyperionpaperback
    Endymionpaperback
    The Rise of Endymionpaperback

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