Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a Hugo award-winning science fiction novel that kept me mentally engaged in a way that few books do. The book begins when seven individuals are chosen to be members of a pilgrimage to the planet Hyperion. The pilgrimage’s are granted by the Shrike church, a mysterious organization that worships a strange monster called The Shrike and the Time Caves (an unprecedented time anomaly on Hyperion). The Priest, The Soldier, The Poet, The Scholar, The Consul, The Captain, and The Detective all have a history with Hyperion and all of them have something to ask the benevolent/murderous Shrike. The group begins their journey while the Hegemony (the main government of humans) is on the brink of war with a mysterious race of fringe humans called The Ousters. As they travel they tell each other their tales and what brings them to Hyperion. The story style is similar to the Canterbury Tales and the Decameron.
Right off the bat this book had a very steep learning curve as we are bombarded with words like “farcasting” and “hawking drives” and various other rather intimidating references to confusing science. If you stick with it though, Simmons does a fantastic job at explaining the overall universe of his story and the science and history which belong to it as a background for the tales told in the novel. By the end, all you needed to know was made clear (excepting a few threads to lead us into the next book of the series).
Despite my early confusion when thrown into this universe, I found the story intriguing as I tried to piece together information about the world along with the narrative told in each of the character’s stories. Multiple time lines and varied perspectives on totally different aspects of the Hyperion Galaxy offered a very rich and complex setting in which all of these people had a role. In addition to the complexity of the science and history in Hyperion the novel is also rich with religious and literary diversity, speculating how various religious groups would survive if our species became one of galactic proportions. From a literary perspective Hyperion directly references Catholic Priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the “ancient” English poet John Keats, who features fairly prominently in the series, including having an AI “cybrid” based on him. (John Keats also wrote an unfinished epic poem called Hyperion).
I enjoyed many aspects of this book especially how many questions it raises about how various conventions of our lives would change if we quite simply applied to to a galactic scale instead of just one planet. I also enjoyed thinking about the aspects of various AI developments and considerations for thinking and learning computers, it was fascinating. Another great feature of the novel was the complexity of the characters and their backgrounds and motivations. They were all very different, and very flawed people who were trying to make the most out of an extremely unusual and trying situation. That was probably my favorite aspect of the book.
The only problem I had with Hyperion was the frequency of sexual references and profane language (especially by the poet, Martin Silenus). I felt that most of it was unnecessary beyond simply adding color to the characters. Hyperion is a fantastic novel for readers who like to have a lot to contemplate as they read. It will keep you on your toes.