Book Review: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons
This book was tough for me. I had a really hard time getting into it, and actually stopped twice during the first hundred and thirty pages and read other books (one is the last review I did, the other was Of Mice and Men, which I was tempted to review, but decided not to because everyone already knows that book is amazing anyway). All that said, I think in ways, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is a beautiful book. I think the writing is wonderful. It’s just that the story started slow for me. And the ending, well, let’s just say the last two pages were so completely unsatisfying I can hardly articulate how vexed I was.
Hyperion is a science-fiction novel about a group of pilgrims in the future, about 800 years as I recall, give or take, and they are heading off to see this creature/God called the Shrike for various reasons. The novel is basically a sequence of stories giving these reasons, one by one, for each pilgrim.
The Shrike creature is very cool, both in “actuality” and in concept, and the scenes where you see him/her/it are freaking killer. Simmons can write a fight. I mean, he’s flat out awesome when it comes to getting to a scene like that, and his diction and pacing are sublime. His battles are epic, and there’s a space battle around eighty or ninety pages in with the character of Colonel Kassad that is so good it totally saved the book for me right when I was about to give up on the novel for the third straight time. Simmons can definitely do scene.
However, in other places, the book drags to a crawl and becomes mired down in literary allusion and homage. Having been an English major, you would think I would be happy to have all these references to old school poets, but I wasn’t. I noticed it early on, stuff that didn’t seem in keeping with the characters around which they appeared, the similes about Beowulf and references to Keats. But, even though they sort of jumped out at me, seemed forced, I ignored it and figured the author was just so in love with the canon that he couldn’t help himself. But that stuff was already conspicuous to me before the poet and the scholar characters got their turn to tell their stories (the novel is a collection of each characters stories, don’t forget), which included direct references to the same poets, coming out of the character’s mouths. And it wasn’t just poets, because I think there were at least three if not four or five references to Escher paintings.
But mainly it was Keats being used for everything. Similes in narrative, obsession by characters, towns named for him, other stuff I won’t give away. And yes, some might argue that was the subtle brush strokes of the artist setting things up. Fine, I’ll accept that with a polite nod and just say it wasn’t working for me on the second and third and fourth mention when no connection was being suggested yet. Each one knocked me out of the fictional dream. Yes, it gets there, but I had no way of knowing that, so, I was distracted. It might just be me. I can live with that.
But then somewhere past the halfway point, it finally started to seem like that stuff WAS going to pay off after all, and then I was annoyed that I had been annoyed. After the poet and the second to last pilgrim, Brawne Lamia, told their stories, I thought maybe the author had jammed those references in there early to really super set-up something very cool that would pay off by the end, making the klunk of them early ultimately worth it. It was on purpose. He wanted me to think about them outside of the narrative. Okay. Cool, we’re off and running now!
But then nothing. No pay off. At all. Not at the end of this book anyway, which is the one I read.
This ending is only an ending because the story runs out of pages. It just stops at the back cover. There’s this very unsatisfying little, almost cutesy, scene and that’s it. The End.
Now, I confess my dissatisfaction with the ending may be because I didn’t see anywhere on Amazon, where I bought it, or on the cover, that this was a Book One of a two-part story. My copy does not say “part one” or “book one” or anything on it. It just says: Hyperion, and has the author’s name. Just that. If you open up a page or two in, you can see a page that says: Also by Dan Simmons, followed by a list of books, one of which is Fall of Hyperion. You might say, “Well, there you go, there was your evidence,” but there is nothing about this book when I bought it that suggested it was an incomplete story. The first half of a whole. Even the title Fall of Hyperion, had I even noticed it, would not in and of itself suggest that book one wasn’t a complete story in any fashion whatever. Sequels often follow successful books. Look at Ender’s Game, it has books that follow it, yet the first story is complete in its way. A sequel is not the same as the second half of an unfinished whole. And, again, like I said, it doesn’t say “part one of series” or “volume one” on Amazon. So, how was I to know?
I went back today and read the reviews (which, ironically, I don’t usually do before buying a book because so many people spoil the story), and I saw that in some of those they mention it’s the first of two, but the retailer and the cover don’t make it obvious, so I don’t feel I am off base here. Feel free to tell me if you disagree. But, with no information to suggest otherwise, I thought I had a complete, Hugo winning story in my hands when I bought it. What I got was a total cliff hanger. Like no resolution at all. Not even a partial one. Just build up, build up, build up, it’s coming, here it comes, we’re right there, here it goes, it’s, it’s … in through the door and… The End.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a cliff hanger AND stand on its own. But I don’t think the stand-on-its-own thing works at all. Which means, I just spent 500 pages to have NOTHING settled. Nothing. Not one, single thing. At all. I mean, I get that writers don’t have to answer every single unsolved question to end a novel. But I don’t get not answering anything. Like, zero resolution of any kind.
So now I have to decide if I want to commit another twelve bucks (after shipping) to go through another five hundred pages to see if this time there’s an actual ending. I want to, but, to be honest, some of the style of writing is really slow for me, overwrought in places. I like action, and I’m not a big “connect the dots between all these short stories” kind of person. I realize I get dinged in reviews sometimes because my stories are too linear, so, I’ll confess that may just be a personal taste thing with me. But because the first book was really several individual narratives, like a collection of novellas that all tied together, not quite a composite novel, but not quite a single one either, well, I’m not sure I want to go there again. Not for twelve more bucks—and, yes, I know the ebook is only eight bucks, but so is the paperback before shipping, so, No, I’m not going to pay the same price for an e-book that the paperback sells for. That’s absurd. If I’m going to pay full price, cut down a goddamn tree. At least a lumberjack and a couple of truck drivers get jobs too.
But I really do want to know what happens to the baby Rachel. In that sub-story, Simmons did such a beautiful job with the narrative of Sol Weintraub (so much so, that I actually spelled the character’s name right without looking, and I’m terrible with character names). So, I suppose that means the book must be good, because it left me wanting more.
And it is good. But it starts slow, for a long time, and that “ending” is just infuriating.
I wanted to know if maybe it was just me having an issue with this book. So I asked a friend who reads everything, this guy eats books—it’s amazing how much he goes through. “Hey,” I asked him, “did you ever read Hyperion. I know I’m late to the party on this one, but have you read it?”
He replied, “Yes, I did. A ponderous read as I recall.”
So, there you go. It wasn’t just me on the slow part at least.
If you like very carefully written tales, probably sublimely plotted—but you won’t know for sure until you read the SECOND BOOK—then get this one. Just get the second one too, so you won’t be sitting there fuming at the end of book one. Go into it with your eyes open, so to speak, and have both books. And be prepared to give it sixty or so pages to warm up, at least.