Yggdrasil makes another appearance, this time as a great tree-space-ship (which makes me think The Fountain borrowed a little too liberally from this book). The Hyperion stories have been compared to Chaucer, but they are really epic love letters to John Keats and Beowulf. The titles themselves are from Keats’s poems, and many characters are named after people in Keats’s life or in his writings. Simmons is aware of his literary debts, and doesn’t ignore any of them. For example, when the story get cyberpunky, he gives a polite nod to the “Cowboy Gibson.”
Hyperion tells the stories of six pilgrims, all who become entangled in the seedier properties of immortality and time: a priest who is implanted with a living cross and its searing immortality, a warrior who knows he will play a part in the end of the world, a poet who needs a planet’s destruction to finish his greatest work, a scholar whose daughter is growing younger and younger, a private investigator whose lover leaves life and enters her head, and an emissary whose space-traveling time jumps keep him young while his lover grows older and dies.
The exception that really proves the rule, Fall of Hyperion is a mixed bag. One part filler-to-make-another-story, one part review of the first book, and one part Dune-esquian holy grail that seems to end up as a muddle of themes created in the first book. But there are truly transcendent moments in this sequel. Rather than following the stories of different characters, this book twitches back and forth between the pilgrims still on the planet of Hyperion, and the recreation of John Keats himself. I appreciated that the author never seemed to write himself into the persona of the poet he admires so much; and there were several passages that made slogging through the rest worthwhile. As an instance: “Pain, he discovers, has a structure. It has a floor plan. It has designs more intricate than a chambered nautilus, features more baroque than the most buttressed Gothic cathedral. Even as he screams, Martin Silenus studies the structure of this pain. He realizes that it is a poem.”
Like pain, writing has a structure and form from which arises meaning. Although this quote alludes to this, I received a more pointed lesson about it on the author’s website, where he discussed the greatness of Hemingway and Gustav Flaubert. I want to learn more about how beauty arises from the structure of a story. It’s something I’ve always felt, always known was there, but it is beyond me to describe.
The books themselves also had a delightful lesson (also discussed in the website). Strange surprises make a very readable story. And reading this, I thought: I love science fiction because cities and planets are named after writers. For this author, it was another bow of respect to other writers, as well as an artful manifestation of the relationship between words hobbled together to create a reality.