Monday, 13 March 2000

Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1990)

Edition: Headline, 1991
Review number: 449

It is not surprising that Hyperion won awards. What is surprising, to me anyway, is that I have not read the novel before. It came out at a time when I was still avidly reading science fiction - I virtually stopped doing so for a few years in the mid-nineties, for a variety of reasons - and contains imaginative science fiction of a type I have always liked.

Hyperion is the story of an unusual pilgrimage, itself an unusual subject in these non-religious times. A new religion has grown up around bizarre artefacts on the planet Hyperion, the Time Tombs which are the mysterious products of a culture capable of manipulating time, and their guardian, the destructive Shrike against which no known technology can guard. To the Church of the Shrike, it is the avenging angel which will bring inevitable destruction to the human race, and devotees travel to Hyperion hoping that they will be "chosen" to die.

After centuries in which human culture has barely evolved, there are signs that things are about to change. At the same time as Hyperion comes under attack from the barbarian Outers, changes in the "time tides" which surround the Tombs warn the authorities that their temporal stasis is about to come to an end. The Shrike Church believe that this is the cur for it to be set free to destroy humanity, and choose seven people for the last pilgrimage to the Tombs.

Strangely enough, none of the chosen seven are Shrike Church believers, yet they all have odd connections with Hyperion and the Tombs. These connections produce the material forming the major part of the novel, as each in turn tells their story, producing a sort of science fiction Canterbury Tales. Each story is a novella-length tour de force, written in different styles to reflect their subject matter. Several have shocking denouements or a sense of psychological strain throughout, reminding the reader that Simmons was also well known as a horror writer. Each one is so well done as to leave you drained by its end, wondering how it can possibly be topped.

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