Hyperion is a very, very good book. The sequel might have been equally good if Dan Simmons would have not whiffed the ending. It so lacks in imagination that it made me angry.
But let start at the top.
Disappointments all around
We left our band of intrepid pilgrims before they stepped down into the Valley of the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion. They expected to meet the Shrike and die, except for one who – according to legend – would be offered a wish. Now, days later, nothing has happened; only a sandstorm is raging through the Valley. Above the planet, the fleets of the Hegemony of Man and the Ousters are engaged in a pitched battle. It is not going well for the Hegemony fleet.
Back in the Hegemony, an artist called Joseph Severn is being invited to join the inner circle of Hegemony-CEO Meina Gladstone because he can see what the pilgrims experience; ostensibly via an implant one of them is carrying.
Simmons structured The Fall of Hyperion in a bit more common way. While the prequel consists mostly of the pilgrims telling the stories about what led them to join the pilgrimage, time flows as usual in the second book in the series (except when it’s not). Joseph Severn “dreams” what happens on Hyperion because he is an artificial being built by the AI-TechnoCore after the psychological and genetic material available about the poet John Keats. Therefore, the story alternates between his waking hours he spends in the company of the CEO who is managing a war, and the time when he is asleep and sees what the pilgrims do.
Wheels within wheels
Simmons has created a very compelling universe, albeit a depressive one. The Fall of Hyperion offers more background to the society of the Hegemony, the Ousters and the TechnoCore. The Hegemony has become complacent and decadent. It lacks a moral guideline (there is a part where an artist speaks about his latest project coordinating suicides on different worlds). The Ousters have evolved to a point where there are several distinct human subspecies. The TechnoCore is divided in three factions; one wants to extend the status quo of cooperation with the humans, one wants to destroy them and one wants to build a god-AI.
The novel contains a lot of moving parts and they are woven together beautifully. It is impossible to write more about it without revealing too much of the story. Having written that: the following contains some spoilers about the ending.
And then it all unravels
Over the course of the story it becomes clear that Dan Simmons is a moralist. His depiction of what humanity has become in the Hegemony makes that very clear, and the Christian allegories form the backbone of this book. Towards the culmination of the novel, I think it is also evident that the author is afraid of technology. (Tangent: When he wrote the Cantos at the start of the in 1990s, Simmons foresaw that a lot of people would not care about their privacy on the internet, but erred when he thought that mobs could not form online.) The AI as big bad is not a new trope – and I guess it wasn’t when Simmons wrote the Hyperion Cantos. He does use it pretty well, especially when he lets the AIs try to construct a god amongst themselves and go to war against each other over their beliefs.
Then he takes the AI deity, makes it the Antichrist and offers the Christian god – more specifically the Catholic version – as a way out for humankind.
I almost threw the book against the wall. The mind boggles how a man who is able to come up with such a rich and involved (part of the) universe can be so small-minded as to finish his superbly told story with the message: “Believe in GOD! Or else.” It is unbelievably heavy-handed.
I do not mean it as an offense to people of faith, but that is not what I think Science Fiction should be about, even if Simmons comes up with a (somewhat fuzzy) scientific explanation of how his god came into existence in his universe. I think that authors in the genre should not fall back on old and well-trodden ways of how humankind can deal with the future.
The Fall of Hyperion is still a good book; well written, with complex characters and an engaging story. The ending, however, leaves much to be desired and I cannot give the novel the 5 stars it would otherwise deserve.