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Going back to another re-read before moving down my list and picking up something new.  This time around I went back to Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. This book and the three installments that follow it are among the works that inspired me to make this blog about more than just beer.  And even though I am only reading the first book this time around, this series may have Dune-like staying power on my annual reading priorities.   

For those that haven’t read it, the action takes place primarily on the beseiged planet of Hyperion, which is preparing for invasion by the Ousters – genetically modified human offshoots who centuries earlier abandoned planet-bound life to exist on colonies built to roam between the stars.  As the human government, named the Hegemony, scrambles its defense forces and a desperate populace seeks to escape a warzone, the novel follows seven pilgrims who have been sent to Hyperion on a mysterious mission to reach the Time Tombs, the site of a temporal anomaly at the heart of the looming conflict.  Guarding its secrets, however, is a terrifying creature known as the Shrike.  Clad entirely in black spiked armor the Shrike is rumored to travel through time with a massive metallic tree on which it impales its victims for eternity, a feat which inspires terror in most and religious awe in a select few.  As each pilgrim shares the story of their connection to the planet (a la the Canterbury Tales) trying to piece together the reasons for their mission, the complex and fascinating universe created by Dan Simmons reveals itself to the reader, providing a glimpse into the forces and conspiracies driving their journey.  As a warning, this first volume ends rather abruptly.  If you’re finding yourself really enjoying this book, make sure you have its sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, on hand!

So, obviously I like this book if I am taking the time to re-read it and write a post about it.  I don’t want to give too much away here for those that haven’t read it, but I really liked some of the technological concepts and the exploration of the social, political, and ecological systems within the Hegemony’s empire.  The things that really kept me thinking about these books though were the individual stories and how they were told.  It was fascinating how the story and universe slowly unveiled themselves as the pilgrims progressed on their journey and shared their lives.  I think the author did a great job giving each tale a distinct feeling that really gave each character their own unique individual personality.  Stylistically, the mixture of horror, military sci-fi, detective narrative, and memoirs of failed liberation movements and lives of excess really expands the story in an organic and free-flowing way.  Equal parts eerie, mysterious, exciting, triumphant, and deeply sad this book offers up a lot of emotion, which is not something I say very often.

My favorite stories also happen to be the ones I think best capture these moods.  Brawne Lamia’s tale provided probably the most action and adventure while simultaneously introducing the book’s third main faction: the TechnoCore, a society of Artificial Intelligence that withdrew from human control yet remains in alliance with the Hegemony to advise humanity and maintain its technological networks and infrastructure. This one story alone is both a detective narrative and an action tale full of fantastic technological aspects and classic sci-fi.

The Consul’s story, though, was probably my favorite .  It combines a social/political view of the Hegemony, a commentary on the damage “progress” can cause to the environment, and behind the scenes information about the inner-workings of the forces driving the pilgrimage.  I don’t want to give away too much here, but this section definitely provided a strong finish to the book.

Looking back, I think it is kind of interesting how into this series I have become.  I clearly remember the cover from my days of working in the town library while I was in high school.  The alluring figure of the Shrike staring out at the ship crossing a sea of grass never failed to grab my attention (right along with all those wacky smiley planets on the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy), but for some reason I never gave it a read.  However, when I read somewhere that this series helped inspire, however loosely, the game Civilization: Beyond Earth I took that as a sign to pick it up.  I couldn’t be happier that I did.  Definitely recommend.

In the spirit of my Dune review, some quotes follow the break.  Since they may inadvertently reveal spoilers, consider yourself warned.

While I don’t think I really liked the Martin Silenus character, he sure was quotable.  Especially when thinking back on the language theme I picked up on in Dune:

In the beginning was the Word.  Then came the fucking word processor.  Then came the thought processor.  Then came the death of literature. (Chapter 3, Page 177)

I love being a poet.  It’s the goddamned words I can’t stand. (Chapter 3, Page 177)

Words bend our thinking to infinite paths of self-delusion, and the fact that we spend most of our mental lives in brain mansions built of words means that we lack the objectivity necessary to see the terrible distortion of reality which language brings. (Chapter 3, Page 189)

And then there were the more irreverent moments of his chapter:

In twentieth-century Old Earth, a fast food chain took dead cow meat, fried it in grease, added carcinogens, wrapped it in petroleum-based foam, and sold nine hundred billion units.  Human beings.  Go figure. (Chapter 3, Page 203)

I explored religions and serious drinking, finding more hope of lasting solace in the latter. (Chapter 3, Page 204)

And then there were some quotes from chapters that just felt right:

After fifty-five years of dedicating his life and work to the story of ethical systems, Sol Weintraub had come to a single, unshakeable conclusion: any allegiance to a deity or concept or universal principle which put obedience above decent behavior toward an innocent human being was evil. (Chapter 4, Page 290)

If our society ever opted for Orwell’s Big Brother approach, the instrument of choice for our oppression would have to be the credit wake.  In a totally noncash economy with only a vestigial black market, a person’s activities could be tracked in real-time by monitoring the credit wake of his or her universal card.  There were strict laws protecting card privacy but laws had a bad habit of being ignored or abrogated when societal push came to totalitarian shove. (Chapter 5, Page 343)

And finally we come to my favorite chapter, the Consul’s story.  In addition to the social, political, and ecological aspects of this chapter I also found it to be probably the most moving for me as well:

Nobody gets beyond a petroleum economy.  Not while there’s petroleum there. (Chapter 6, Page 449)

Suffice it to say that I believe the Ousters have done what Web humanity has not in the past millenia: evolved…Barbarians we call them, while all the while we timidly cling to our Web like Visigoths crouching in the ruins of Rome’s faded glory and proclaim ourselves civilized. (Chapter 6, Page 466)

I’ll end this with the Consul’s big finish, which just so happens to be my favorite excerpt of the book:

But when the time comes to judge, to understand a betrayal which will spread like flame across the Web, which will end worlds, I ask you not to think of me – my name was not even writ on water as your lost poet’s soul said – but to think of Old Earth dying for no reason, to think of the dolphins, their gray flesh drying and rotting in the sun, to see – as I have seen – the motile isles with no place to wander, their feeding grounds destroyed, the Equatorial Shallows scabbed with drilling platforms, the islands themselves burdened with shouting, trammeling tourists smelling of UV lotion and cannabis.  Or better yet, think of none of that.  Stand as I did after throwing the switch, a murderer, a betrayer, but still proud, feet planted firmly on Hyperion’s shifting sand, head held high, fist raised against the sky, crying “A plague on both your houses!”  For you see, I remember my grandmother’s dream.  I remember the way it could have been. (Chapter 6, Page 470)