Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of my favorite SF novels.
Easily in the top ten. It has just about everything I could want in an SF while also elevating the entire SF conversation at the same time.
And a virtuoso performance is another term I'd use, as if the character of Martin Selinius had popped out of the pages and wrote this very book, wowing the AIs connaisseurs and elevating the very first Literary SF form to do universal justice to the term.
Back when I first read this book, the same year it came out, I was stunned by just how THOROUGH Simmons was. Of course, I was coming off my high of David Brin's Earth and I thought I had seen it all, a worldbuilding extravaganza that tore apart the planet in a really big, really flashy way.
But then Simmons had to come around and pull a The Canterbury Tales written as a fantastic pitch-perfect genre mini-stories within the equally mysterious and fantastic over-story.
Imagine, for a moment, that we have the mystery of the Catholic priest on the strange and horrific world of Hyperion, reading like A Case of Conscience but having one of the most horrific and soul-scarring scenes in any HORROR novel, let alone an SF novel.
Then imagine that the tone completely changes, as well as genre and the type of storytelling, to one of the best Hard-SF military fiction sequences in the next storytelling sequence.
Only to go completely Lit-SF, with a humorous, bawdy, ancient poet who is as brilliant as he NEEDS to court his deadly muse.
And then to the next genre that is quietly horrific even as it is quietly scholarly... with one of the hardest-hitting SF ideas I've ever read, making me burst into tears.
To a wonderfully cyberpunk detective noir fiction on par with Gibson, with an AI love story, intrigue...
To a tale of love, revenge, interplanetary colonialism, and time-dilation.
Where each tale provides us with a piece of a much larger puzzle that is Hyperion, even if most of the action takes place off the world, itself.
Of course, my simply describing the stories-within-stories can't do it justice. Nor would describing the Shrike (a huge golem made of blades), the time-vaults, the sheer emotional impact that EVERY one of these stories brings to the table of this otherwise not-simple pilgrimage tell you a damn thing about WHAT MAKES THIS NOVEL GREAT.
For those thematically oriented, you could say that the whole thing is a huge question: searching for a godhead or meaning and reason for the pain. Each one of these characters has been driven to sacrifice everything for an answer. A real answer.
Unfortunately, all they can reasonably expect is to get impaled on the Shrike's spikes.
You could say this is a metaphor, but the way the worldbuilding has set it up, it all makes absolutely excellent sense in the narrative. Shockingly so. It's the main power of mystery, after all.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one little important detail: this is not a complete novel without The Fall of Hyperion. -- Unless you like all your mysteries to sit on the knife's edge without ever getting cut, that is. ;)
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