Dan Simmons’ Ilium follows the misadventures of a group of war-re-enactors, as the egos of the organizers and the participants threaten to get in the way of historical accuracy.
Okay, the war is the Trojan War, the site is a terraformed Mars thousands of years in the future, and the organizers are godlike beings. But, it was reassuring for me to imagine the story on a smaller scale, since, as is the norm with Simmons’ space operas, the story has to go BIG: the nature of Earth and humanity are on the line, supertechnology and omnipotent beings abound, numerous references to great works of the western canon are thrown in to give the proceedings extra artificial weight, and one volume cannot contain the action. Honestly, if not for the fact that I’ve read or want to read every other Locus sf winner, I would have skipped this one, because it’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from Simmons after three disappointing books in a row (Fall of Hyperion and the Endymion duology). My eyes glazed over for a lot of my reading, and I’m afraid I won’t remember a thing about this book if I don’t write this review right now.
As I said, it’s the far future, most of humanity is extinct, but there are a few survivors bouncing around Earth, some missing-in-action “post-humans,” Greek gods on Mars (who may be said post-humans), and some sentient robots bouncing around the rest of the solar system. The Greek gods live on Olympus Mons and are recreating the Trojan War. They’ve brought a few twentieth-century scholars of the Iliad in to consult, including sometimes-narrator Thomas Hockenberry (who may as well just be PJF from Riverworld). Hockenberry is given the power to morph into different characters and teleport, but he’s also often given impossible, history-sabotaging tasks by the gods (“kill Athena!”), not that these lead the plot anywhere interesting in particular. There’s also some action with the few remaining humans on Earth where they hang with Oddyseus and fight Prospero and Caliban for some reason. There’s a good amount of Roger Zelazny here – the futuristic Greek gods, whatever their origin, reminded me of the futuristic Hindu gods of Lord of the Light, and Oddyseus adventuring on a destroyed future Earth took me right back to This Immortal.
My favorite portions of the novel involve to “moravecs” or sentient robots from the Gallilean moons of Jupiter. Mahnmut is a Shakespeare scholar from Europa, and Orphu is a Proust expert from Io. The scholars are tasked with a mission to check out Mars. Their scholarship doesn’t do much other than allow Simmons to remind us that he knows some things about literature, as he so often does. The Canterbury Tales format of Hyperion was original and fun; since then, the Keats, Shakespeare, Homer, and Proust references just seem like Simmons doing his shtick. Is it in his contract or something? At least Mahnmut and Orphu have personalities though, unlike the human characters.
I think Simmons is just not for me. His world-building doesn’t have the depth that I look for as it leans to heavily on shallow intertextuality, and he always ramps the stakes up to the point that nothing seems to matter.