Monday, January 17, 2011

1991 Locus and BSFA – THE FALL OF HYPERION by Dan Simmons

I had heard from a few sources that the sequel to Hyperion did not live up to the promise of its forebear. Based on the first book, I imagined that this novel failed by skewing off onto some sort of metaphysical tangent. Considering that Hyperion had foreshadowed a war between different versions of God, it was easy to imagine the resolution going off the rails in this manner. There is some of that here, but it’s not really where the book goes wrong. I was surprised to discover that The Fall of Hyperion is just kind of boring.

The first novel used an interesting structure to unveil its fascinating world – a series of different tales from varying points of view and in diverse styles. The Fall of Hyperion also attempts a new narrative structure. It is narrated in first person by a new character (though one very closely related to a character in the previous novel) who can dream faraway events on the planet Hyperion. So, we see war planning at the highest levels of the Hegemony government from our narrator, while also picking up the stories of the first novel’s pilgrims while he sleeps. It’s an interesting idea, but Simmons quickly abandons these rules by the novel’s second half in a move that illustrates the book’s overall sloppiness. There are no real rules here; it really feels like Simmons is making things up as he goes along, and you can see the dei ex machina coming from miles away (note to authors: discussing deus ex machina does not excuse it). There are no rules, so there are no stakes. We spend most of the novel watching the Hegemony fall apart, but it’s never all that clear why we should care. Simmons calls the Hegemony’s leader “Lincolnesque” at least five times, but she seems reckless, cruel, self-involved, and ignorant. Characters disappear and reappear, die and get resurrected, get tortured, send their consciousnesses into cyberspace, switch temporal directions, and so on. The narrator moves aimlessly, at one point going all the way to Hyperion and tantalizing us with the possibility that the dual plots will synch up and go somewhere interesting, only to leave again shortly thereafter. Watching an interstellar civilization collapse while gods battle should be dramatic, but here it’s just a mess.

Hyperion was a great book, but I’m not convinced that a) Simmons had a clear resolution planned, or b) had enough material for another full-length novel anyway. As a result, this feels simultaneously rushed and padded, staid and chaotic. This novel has its moments, and it’s still a fascinating world. I might check out Endymion duology down the line, but this one really got away from him.

Grade: C-

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