Friday, 24 October 2003

Dan Simmons: The Rise of Endymion (1997)

Edition: Headline, 1998
Review number: 1191

Centuries after the events chronicled in Hyperion, the novel which began the series of which The Rise of Endymion is the fourth, human culture in the galaxy has changed dramatically, apparently returning to an archaic form. Through its monopoly of the cruciform, a parasitic, cross shaped piece of nanotechnology which makes it possible to reconstruct a person's personality and memory in a new body after death, the Catholic church has become the dominant power in the majority of the human populated worlds. It has changed to, to an organisation more closely resembling the corrupt church of the early sixteenth century (complete with Inquisition) than the reformed religious movement we see today.

The plot of The Rise of Endymion is fairly hackneyed; it tells of a young girl, prophesied to be a new Messiah, who takes on the might of the Catholic church armed only with her blook, which when drunk by others passes on an extreme awareness of the universe while being incompatible with the cruciform. The Messianic figure is so common in science fiction and fantasy that it is the details which are important rather than the general plot idea, and Simmons is a good enough writer to create a whole series of fascinating environments in which his story can unfold, including a most unusual orbital grown as a giant tree rather than by the more mundane method of constructing it from rock. (An orbital is basically an alternative to a planet, a ring around a star rather than an orbiting ball.)

The most obvious influence on The Rise of Endymion, including the standardised plotline, is Frank Herbert's Dune series, especially the later novels. It is probably the galactic political manoeuvrings as well as the Messianic plot which make this top of the list of related fiction. Simmons includes details which are little nods of homage to other writers, ranging from Asimov (the android characters all have the title 'A.', like the 'R.' given to Asimov's humanoid robots) to Wolfe. It is not all derivative, of course; the vast majority of the details are Simmons' own and the style is all his too. In the end, the novel lacks the visceral impact and originality of Hyperion and could be described as good rather than great.

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