The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons

When Hyperion arrived in the mail, I instantly had a good feeling about Dan Simmons’ 1990 Hugo award winner. My intuition proved correct and I ended up consuming all four books in the Hyperion Cantos. As a fan of science fiction – hell, as a fan of literature – you will find these books astounding.

After reading over 2000 rich pages full of expertly crafted characters and exotic worlds, I am at a loss to summarize the story. The four books are divided into two couplets: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion describe the Shrike Pilgrimage, a journey to the Time Tombs undertaken by seven diverse pilgrims under the watch of the murderous Shrike creature; Endymion and The Rise of Endymion tell an epic love story as humanity fights for and against its ultimate evolution. There, that’s the best I could do in terms of a quick summary – hardly scratches the surface of the tetralogy’s depth.

To rattle off a few literary themes, the books explore:

  • Religion, in a surprising number of forms
  • Love, also in a surprising number of forms
  • The evolution and motivation of artificial intelligence
  • Likewise, the evolution and motivation of humanity
  • The sanctity and splendor of nature
  • Poetry, especially that of John Keats

And I’m sure there is more that I’m not remembering at the moment. Switching to the topic of pure science fiction, this is definitely in the realm of “high” sci-fi, but there is good internal consistency and enough realism to not wander too far into the fields of fantasy. You have FTL, beam weapons, a mechanism for instantaneous travel, better-than-sentient AI, nanotech on the periphery, and “doc-in-the-box” devices that can heal pretty much anything. The books are full of interesting gadgets/technology and you will generally not suffer from sci-fi withdrawal.

To give a few criticisms, I found the second and fourth books to have some areas where you tend to get bogged down as a reader. Whereas I tore through Hyperion and Endymion, I found myself taking more breaks with the other two; The Fall of Hyperion had some slow political sections and The Rise of Endymion had me dragging my feet through the world of T’ien Shan where the author is hurling all these Chinese/Tibetan names/landmarks/structures at you.

As a computer geek, I found some of the AI/metaverse stuff to be a little silly. Simmons uses a Neuromancer sort of mechanic – even making a reference to William Gibson – which I found unfortunate because I hate the representation of hacking as flying around some 3D digital environment. Still, the whole AI theme and execution is pretty cool, even if you aren’t treated to a Vernor Vinge sort of plausibility.

But my gripes are small compared with the overall majesty of this series. The Hyperion Cantos has definitely jumped to the top of my sci-fi favorites, not just for providing compelling science fiction, but also for its exploration of so many vibrant aspects of the soul. I’m going to have to take a brief literary break to let these books sink in before I hit up the Hugos and Nebulas again.

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