Book: Hyperion - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Hyperion
Sunday, 04 May 2008 at 11:40 pm
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Author: Dan Simmons

Details: (c) 1989 Dan Simmons; Pub Bantam Spectra 1995; ISBN 0-553-28368-5

Verdict: Hyperion is clever but emotionally distancing.

Reasons for reading it: Lots of people have been raving about Simmons at me. I think it was probably rysmiel who told me to start with Hyperion, but I'm not sure.

How it came into my hands: Amazon.

I found Hyperion very hard going. I can see that it's very accomplished, but it was a bit deadly words, and there's too much violence, and it felt more like a showcase for writing technique than a coherent story. I persevered with it since it was so highly recommended, and did gradually start to like it better. I think The river Lethe's taste is bitter would make a pretty decent standalone short story, though it's a little emotionally manipulative.

I actually liked the framing story of the Shrike pilgrimage, and almost wish there had been more of that. Part of the issue of not caring enough about the characters was probably due to the fragmented viewpoint and the six almost separate stories. But it's also because the pilgrims seem more types than people, and Lamia is an annoying cliche to the point where I was expecting a revelation that she was an unreliable narrator and her story was complete bullshit. (Plus, I hate her name, but that's a petty criticism.) Silenus is potentially interesting, and at least annoying in an original way. But most of the other characters seem annoyingly flat and don't have distinct voices. Also, the set-up with "one of the group is actually a double-agent" seemed a bit artificial and wasn't really developed enough to work as a mystery.

One aspect that did work well for me was the way that the stories are tied together and present different information about the Shrike and the galactic situation. I can't make up my mind about the ending; in some ways it's a little reminiscent of Farthing, that the fate of the characters is ambiguous and that brings into relief the foreknowledge of the doom hanging over the whole galaxy, without being too incredibly depressing. But I have to admit I didn't find it entirely satisfying.

In some ways my emotional response to Hyperion was not unlike my response to Lord Foul's Bane, though nothing like as bad (I gave up the Donaldson after about two chapters, I found it so repulsive). But the first two stories both have a very bleak setting, with a lot of detailed descriptions of violence and nastiness, and not particularly likeable viewpoint characters, and my main reaction was to be slightly nauseated rather than any more positive emotional engagement. Also, there's an in-story reason why all the different planets and settings are samey and like slightly distorted versions of 20th century earth, but it makes the book less interesting on a space opera level.

This review makes it sound as if I hated the book, and that's not the case. I just found it a lot of work to read in proportion to how much enjoyment I got out of it. I can see lots of very clever and original aspects, I suspect I'm just the wrong audience for it.


Whereaboooots: Hyperion
Moooood: nauseatednauseated
Tuuuuune: Funker Vogt: Friendly fire
Discussion: 12 contributions | Contribute something
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friend_of_tofu: default
From:friend_of_tofu
Date:May 7th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
7 minutes after journal entry
(Link)
I gave up the Donaldson after about two chapters, I found it so repulsive

Hear hear! Couldn't stand it meself - started off so well with the long intro about leprosy and then - argh!

I suspect I am also the wrong audience for 'Hyperion', in that case.
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pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:May 7th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 11:46 pm (pw201's time)
(Link)
The point of Donaldson's books is not to read them, it is to engage in the fine sport of clench racing (that said, I quite liked The Mirror of Her Dreams and the sequel).
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friend_of_tofu: default
From:friend_of_tofu
Date:May 8th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Ha ha, brilliant! I had never come across clench racing before. It's a concept which can be applied very well to so many authors :¬)

(with different words, of course)
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:May 9th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:10 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
The comparison was probably a little unfair; Hyperion is unquestionably a vastly better book. But I think it's in the same genre somehow; it's similar in mood, not at all similar in quality.
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timeplease: default
From:timeplease
Date:May 7th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Despite its length, I only really consider Hyperion to be half of a book; it's just the setup and back-story for The Fall of Hyperion. The stories of the characters are drawn together in a much more pleasing way in the second book.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:May 9th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 09:20 pm (livredor's time)
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Bah, so I went to all that effort for something that's merely setup? I already felt the book was a little too long for the amount of plot, but 500 pages of scene setting is really too much. This information does make more sense of the ending, though; I was giving it too much credit by assuming it was some clever literary trick to leave things ambiguous. Even if the second half is better, I'm not at all sure that I'm tempted to read it.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:May 10th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 01:04 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
That's one way of looking at it.

Another is that Simmons wrote something wonderful that ended at exactly the right point, and then worte a disappointingly pedestrian backfill trying to make all that wonderful weird stuff Make Sense that did not live up to where he started.

I incline to the second view.
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:May 7th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Ah! I hadn't thought of Hyperion, I would have suggested it if I had. I know what you mean about it. I think I liked it because of the ideas: the idea of the worldnet, and the strange apocalyptic/messiah of the Shrike, resonated so much, and each of the individual stories was really interesting.

Only now do I realise I don't have much desire to read it again, so maybe it wasn't as good as I first thought it was, but it felt like one everyone should read once, as it did something so different to most sci-fi.

I was disappointed at the end that we didn't get to find out what happened to the characters. But that was probably inevitable, no ending could fulfil the promise. (I read most of, but didn't finish, the sequel, which had interesting ideas about what was going on, and did as good a job as humanly possibly of taking Hyperion further, but no revelations could live up to the stunning set-ups in Hyperion.)

I gave up the Donaldson after about two chapters, I found it so repulsive

I had Mordant's Need recommended to me as the Donaldson most worth reading, and the ideas were sufficiently interesting to make me read through the duology; but I admit I mainly had a desire to slap all the characters involved. (I'm convinced the entire plot could be resolved in no time if people could trust each other enough to be honest for five minutes, but simultaneously suspicious enough to have every major character followed round by two randomly chosen guardsmen, thus discovering everyone who really is on the same side, while simultaneously not giving anyone with a motive for betrayal the opportunity.).
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ewx: default
From:ewx
Date:May 8th, 2008 07:56 am (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 07:56 am (ewx's time)
(Link)
Simmons is 67% Raman or something (he does everything in twos) - if you read Endymion make sure you have The Rise Of Endymion to hand (they complete the story of Hyperion but perhaps are less vital to it than Fall) and similarly Ilium needs Olympos for the second half of its story.
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rysmiel: death to vermin!
From:rysmiel
Date:May 10th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 01:06 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
The Endymion books are So Damned Bad that I have managed to almost completely block them out of my mind; I can think of few people I dislike enough to suggest they actually read them short of Orson Scott Card and George W. Bush.
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leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:May 8th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, May 7th, 2008 06:24 pm (leora's time)
(Link)
I just finished reading this and am a little ways into The Fall of Hyperion. When asked how I liked the book, I replied I'd say when I'd finished reading it. I really felt that it was one book that was conveniently divided into two separate physical objects for more convenient carrying around.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:May 9th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:28 am (lethargic_man's time)
(Link)
Well, I liked it, though it was so long ago that I read it (1997) that I can't really remember enough to address your specific points.

I've read a few clergyman-alone-with-the-natives stories, but the Priest's Tale from "Hyperion" knocked the socks off all of them. I thought that tale was absolutely splendid. I also liked the Scholar's Tale. Of course, you knew from not long after the accident what the end of the tale was going to be, but the story was so beautifully told that that didn't matter.

I found Sol Weinbtraub perhaps too much of a twentieth-century Jew, an anachronism in his age... but given his background on Barnard's World I suppose it's hardly surprising. And I'm quite taken with where his musings on the עַקֵידָה lead (though I can't remember if that was in Hyperion or the sequel).

I also thought the description of the dying Earth very beautiful; as also other areas of the book.

Finally, I'll repeat what everyone else said about Hyperion being only the first half of a story that's concluded in Fall of Hyperion. rysmiel tells me Simmons was "rather peeved that it was split and very very peeved that publishers didn't mark it very clearly as so on the cover." Fall of Hyperion is quite violent; but there are lots of very cool images in it. (It doesn't have the unusual structure that Hyperion does, though.) I think again you might appreciate it without liking it.
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