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.