“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons (Doubleday, 1989)


Hyperion is the first book in Dan Simmons’ epic Hyperion Cantos tetralogy.  In this opening tale, seven unique travelers are brought together on a journey, a pilgrimage to the distant and mysterious planet of Hyperion, where they will face the Time Tombs and perhaps the dreaded Shrike.  The galaxy is on the brink of Armageddon, and the pilgrims hope to somehow save it, and ultimately find their destinies on Hyperion.

Employing the structure of the Canterbury Tales, Simmons brings seven very different characters together.  It is some centuries in the future, Planet Earth is no more, having been destroyed in a science experiment now known as the “Great Mistake.”  But humanity has conquered the stars and traveled far throughout the galaxy.  It is a great age, when one can skip across thousands of light years in the blink of an eye with the use of a Farcaster: a teleportation door that takes you where you want to go, created and developed by the AI TechnoCore.

But the Ousters are coming.  A distant alien civilization about which little is known, except that they are hostile and a grave threat.  It could all end now.  The important vantage point is the distant planet of Hyperion, not even a member of the Hegemony of Man, where there are the Time Tombs.  These ancient tombs are shrouded in mystery and suspicion; all that remains of an ancient race known as the Shrike, but they may be the salvation that humanity has been waiting for.  And now these seven travelers hope to somehow activate these Time Tombs and save civilization.

Simmons begins the story in medias res, introducing the reader to these seven strangers in a world about which nothing is known, but he skillfully reveals everything through the minds, imaginations, and stories of these seven characters.  There is Het Masteen, a member of the Templars, a tall and proud but quiet race who created and control the powerful Treeships that possess the Hawking Drive which is able to send ships across the stars at astonishing speeds; Masteen is the captain of the Yggdrasill, the ship that will take the pilgrims to Hyperion; he is also one of the pilgrims with his own unique story to tell.  There is Father Lenar Hoyt, whose story is The Priest’s Tale, about the Catholic world and existence of the parasite known as the cruciform which can reincarnate life.  Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a member of the FORCE military who is searching for a supernatural figure that has come to him many times in his dreams in The Soldier’s Tale.  Martin Silenus, in The Poet’s Tale, tells of his life as a failed poet who nearly loses his life and then begins his opus that will make him remembered throughout the centuries.

The Scholar’s Tale from Sol Weintraub is the most moving story from the pilgrims as he recounts how his daughter, Rachel, was an archaeologist studying the Time Tombs and after a strange accident begins to grow younger each day.  She returns to her family to live with them as she decreases in age, needing to have her story recounted to her each day as she no longer remembers.  Eventually a short and easy version is made to be told by Sol each morning to her.  Sol and his wife, Sarai, relive the raising of their daughter backwards through time.  And now it is up to Sol to return to the Time Tombs with baby Rachel who is now just weeks old and will soon simply disappear.

Tge Detective’s Tale from Brawne Lamia is a noir tale of her job as a private eye with a client who is a cybrid: a cloned human with electronic implants controlled by the TechnoCore.  Someone is trying to kill him and destroy his memory, and it’s up to Lamia to figure out who is behind it all.  In the final story, The Consul’s Tale, as the Consul talks of his grandparents on the planet of Maui-Covenant which was once a paradise but when the first Farcaster was opened, became a tourist destination and its beauty was destroyed forever.  The Consul also talks about his work as a secret agent for the Hegemony in infiltrating the Ousters.

The book ends with the pilgrims finally reaching the Time Tombs.  While the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, is the book which explains a lot more of the world and everything that eventually happens, there is a specialty about Hyperion, a uniqueness with it’s original characters and their incredible stories.  Simmons epic universe employs multiple forms of the science fiction genre, making it a complex and fascinating world in which most people would like to live in.  In a way, Simmons has essentially rewritten the Canterbury Tales of the far future, with some incredible stories that stand out as moving novellas on their own, and a cast of characters readers won’t soon forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 5th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Dan Simmons check out BookBanter Episode 4.