Hyperion is one of the best space opera novels of all time, but its resolution, The Fall of Hyperion, is a rushed-feeling mess of a book. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to continue with the final two books of the series after that, but I do have a solid streak going with the Locus awards, and since the final book won I felt obliged to continue.
This second pair of books does manage to recapture some of what made Hyperion so special, though they also manage to repeat some of the messy mistakes of Fall. In the third book, Endymion, we return to Simmons’ universe a quarter-of-a-millenium later and see that much has changed. The Catholic Church has taken over from the old Hegemony and created an empire called the Pax. A young man from the planet of Hyperion named Raul Endymion (enough with the Keats references already!) meets up with some survivors of the first series and becomes the escort for a twelve year old girl with a capital “D” Destiny named Aenea. The novel unfolds as a chase across several worlds as church officials pursue Raul and the girl (and their robot pal). Unlike Fall of Hyperion, the story is simple, the cast limited, and the sum total engaging and fun.
In this volume, Rise of Endymion, we return the epic and manic universe-bending mess of Fall of Hyperion. The fate of the whole universe is on the line, the rules can and will change at any moment, and the power of love will somehow save everyone. Raul continues to hop from planet to planet, and Aenea continues to slide toward her Destiny. Even though only the second novel won the Locus, the pair of novels make a single whole, and I wouldn’t recommend reading either separate from the other.
Actually, I’m not sure I’d recommend that either. On the one hand, Simmons’s prose, character work, world-building and action scenes are all pretty great. Much of the novel moves from world to world, and Simmons uses his extensive knowledge of history and literature and a respect for the genre’s history to build a series of really interesting places for the protagonists to visit. For instance, the planet of T’ien Shan, featured on the cover, features colonists from Buddhist monasteries, who built a new home high in the mountains of a planet with a noxious atmosphere near the surface. These sections come the closest to matching the greatness of Hyperion. But, there is quite a bit of chaff in that wheat. Far too much of the book is taken up with the machinations of the church antagonists, which don’t serve much purpose and really start to drag. And, the rules do go out the window late in Rise, just as they did in Fall. We get a series of infodumps about evolution and theology and Buddhism and love, which allow for Simmons to chat about what are surely some pet interests before employing a series of deus ex machinas to quickly wrap everything up. As I’ve said before, it’s great when a speculative fiction author uses the full scope of his or her imagination to push the boundaries of reality…but, when characters can come back from the dead, teleport across the universe, or collapse an interstellar civilization with a thought, the stakes of the conflict really aren’t clear.
Simmons is a fine writer, and a lot of this is interesting, but none of it reaches the quality of the first book. I’d say, read Hyperion, then go skim or read some synopses of the rest if you just have to know where it all goes.