The novel “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons was published for the first time in 1989. It’s the first book of the Hyperion Cantos. It won the Hugo and Locus awards as the best science fiction novel of the year.
On the planet Hyperion the Time Tombs are about to open up and no one knows what the Shrike might do. It’s a creature that lives near them and kills the pilgrims who go there. The Church of The Shrike has decided to send to the planet seven more pilgrims selected in collaboration with the Hegemony.
In the course of the interstellar journey, the pilgrims tell their stories. They reveal the reasons that led each of them to risk their lives to go to Hyperion. They also reveal the connections of various types they have with the planet Hyperion, the Time Tombs and in some cases even with the Ousters, the descendants of the colonists who developed their own civilization separate from the Hegemony.
“Hyperion” is set in the 28th century but uses the same literary device as “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in the 14th century. The characters tell their stories as they go on a pilgrimage, in the novel by Dan Simmons to the planet Hyperion. There they can find the Time Tombs, surrounded by an anti-entropic field that makes travel back in time.
Close to the Time Tombs wanders the Shrike, a mysterious creature who is potentially lethal to the pilgrims. It doesn’t just kill them but impales them on a giant thorn tree. It’s also an object of worship by the Church of the Final Atonement.
The balance in the Hegemony is broken when the Time Tombs are about to open up and at the same time the Ousters are going to try to invade Hyperion. The Church of The Shrike sets up a special pilgrimage sending seven people on the planet. Six of them will die but the survivor will have his wishes fulfilled.
“Hyperion” is mainly composed by the various stories told by pilgrims. They’re not only stories that are beautiful in different ways because Dan Simmons also use them to describe the various parts of this fictional universe. The stories are autonomous and yet there are subtle interconnections that make us also understand why the characters are part of that group of pilgrims.
The Priest’s Tale: “The Man who Cried God”. Father Lenar Hoyt is a Catholic priest who accompanies father Paul Duré in a journey to the planet Hyperion, where he’s going into exile. There father Duré comes into contact with the Bikura, a primitive civilization, and studies its particular form of immortality. This story gives us the first information about Hyperion, the Shrike and also the strange parasite called the cruciform.
The Soldier’s Tale: “The War Lovers”. Colonel Kassad Fedmahn is a Palestinian from the space diaspora who became a FORCE officer. During a simulated exercise something strange happens. He meets a woman who in some way entered that virtual reality and in time finds her again in other simulations. This story gives us more information about the Shrike and above all allows us to get to know the Ousters.
The Poet’s Tale: “Hyperion Cantos”. Martin Silenus is a poet born on the old Earth. He started writing the Hyperion Cantos, created as a parody of the poet John Keats and then continued in a way that is much different and unpredictible for Silenus at the beginning. Another explicit is to “The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance. In some ways Silenus is an alter ego of Dan Simmons and not only for the meta-reference to the Cantos. The poet’s problems with a publisher in the story make me think too much about those the author had when he wrote “Carrion Comfort“. This story gives us more information about the Shrike and the Time Tombs.
The Scholar’s Tale: “The River Lethe’s Taste is Bitter”. Sol Weintraub is a philosopher who lives on a peripheral world with his wife. Their daughter Rachel becomes an archaeologist and leaves for the planet Hyperion for a research but there something very strange happens to her. It’s the most emotionally intense tale in a novel in which the emotions are very strong. This story gives us more information about the Shrike and the Time Tombs and allows us to get to know the Church of The Shrike.
The Detective’s Tale: “The Long Good-Bye”. Brawne Lamia is a private detective who one day starts working for a very special client. It’s a cybrid, a TechnoCore artificial intelligence that uses a physical humanoid body that in this case recreates the poet John Keats. Someone tried to kill him and to help him Lamia gets embroiled in a business far bigger than she thought. The style of this story is inspired by hard-boiled detective stories with a role switch in the sense that there’s a woman as an investigator and the client has the appearance of a man who hides many secrets and needs help. This story gives us more information about the Church of The Shrike and allows us to get to know the TechnoCore and its artificial intelligences.
The Consul’s Tale: “Remembering Siri”. The Consul used to represent the Hegemony on Hyperion. His grandfather led a revolt on the planet Maui-Covenant against it joining WorldWeb that was crushed. The Consul was chosen to secretly negotiate with the Ousters and is now at the center of various plans of both FORCE and Ousters on Hyperion. It’s a slightly modified version of a 1983 story that later inspired the Hyperion Cantos. This story provides more information about the Ousters, the Hegemony and its domestic and foreign policy.
The stories of “Hyperion” are intense and the character development is remarkable. It’s set in a future where technology had enormous developments but Dan Simmons isn’t interested in this side of the story so the technological elements have vague explanations.
The author is very focused on the human side of the story even though this term must be taken in a broad sense. There are the inhabitants of the Hegemony and there are the Ousters but there are also the artificial intelligences. Through very different people and settings, Dan Simmons gives us an extraordinary portrait of this fiction universe.
“Hyperion” ends abruptly, without a real ending. This is because it’s the first part of a novel split into two books and you must also read its sequel. To me it’s absolutely worth reading both of them because this novel is a masterpiece that started the science fiction series that marked the ’90s.