I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In the stunning continuation of the epic adventure begun in Hyperion, Simmons returns us to a far future resplendent with drama and invention. On the world of Hyperion, the mysterious Time Tombs are opening. And the secrets they contain mean that nothing--nothing anywhere in the universe--will ever be the same.
This was by no means a bad book, but it just didn’t grab me the way the first one did. I really enjoyed the first book’s “Canturbury Tales” structure and the way Simmons wove the tales tightly together. The second book is a more traditional novel complete with war, a topic which doesn’t thrill me. It is in some ways tied together by the John Keats cybrid, who narrates his vision of what is happening, but the amount of POV hopping was challenging for me.
I did appreciate the wide field of interests that Simmons must have—of course, Keats’ poetry is referenced a lot. In fact it is his epic poem, Hyperion, which provides much of the structure for these two of Simmons books. Stephen Hawking is honoured by the Hawking drive used in the space ships. John Muir’s environmental philosophy is acknowledged in the Templars, on their planet God’s Grove.
Echoing the Canturbury Tales, there is a priest’s tale and the involvement of the Catholic Church. I am always surprised at the inclusion of religion (and often Catholicism) in science fiction set in the far future, as I don’t feel the Church is all that relevant even today, let alone hundreds of years from now. The emphasis on the presence of gods, either evolved from human consciousness or constructed by powerful artificial intelligences, didn’t interest me all that much, despite its pivotal role in the novel.
There is another connection to the Wizard of Oz movie, when the Consul at the book’s end plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and teaches the words to some of his fellow pilgrims. (In the first book, they sang “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” if I recall correctly).
My absolute favourite reference, however, was when one of the Artificial Intelligences makes a speech in the Hegemony in which he says, “It pains the Core to take any human life…or through inaction, allow any human life to come to harm.” What a great tribute to Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, from which the Core AIs have obviously been liberated during their evolution! And of course, the Core represents human creation run amok, a frequent theme in science fiction.
What I found truly impressive was Simmons’ writing in 1990 about a World Web, to which citizens were connected at all times using comlink devices! Remember, this was before our World Wide Web was really much of a thing and well before smart phones which could keep people connected almost all the time. Simmons seems rather prescient about our current reliance on these devices, to the extent that some people in the novel are made anxious and/or mentally unstable when their access to the Web is cut off.
There is so much more going on in this novel—exploration of time travel and its paradoxes, the nature of the Shrike, the choices faced by the Hegemony (shades of Card’s Ender’s Game), the nature of the Ousters. It must have been difficult for the author to keep all of those balls in the air!
Book number 291 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.