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The Endymion Omnibus

by Dan Simmons

(Gollancz, £12.99, 983 pages, trade paperback, Endymion first published 1996, The Rise of Endymion first published 1997, this edition published 1 December 2005.)

Review by Gary Couzens

cover scanHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, first published in 1989/90, was one huge novel split into two (and is reviewed by me elsewhere on this site). In 1996/97, Dan Simmons returned to this background with another, even larger, two part novel, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. You should read the earlier diptych first, though Simmons does fill in the backstory for the reader.

It is two hundred and seventy-four years after the events of The Fall of Hyperion and the collapse of the Worldweb. The known worlds are dominated by the Catholic Church. Raul Endymion is recruited by the very aged poet Martin Silenus to meet his young cousin Aenea when she arrives in the Hyperion Time Tombs, before the Church troops find her. The Church has a vested interest in capturing and killing her.

Given the complexities -- perhaps over-complexities - of The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion is a relatively simple story. It soon resolves into a long chase, as Endymion, Aenea and android A.Bettik flee from the Church troops, led by Father Captain DeSoya, down the Rivert Tethys, jumping from planet to planet by means of the farcaster network. This is narrated by Endymion in alternating sections from his own viewpoint (in first person past tense) and the Church troops (in third present). It's a mark of Simmons's skill that he keeps such a straightforward narrative moving over the space of quite a long novel without obvious word wastage.

The Rise of Endymion mostly takes up the story several years later. Aenea is now a young woman who has become a new messiah. (Simmons tips us off to the religious overtones early by noting that Endymion's first name rhymes with Paul.) Unfortunately this novel, which is longer still than its predecessor, begins to suffer from diminishing returns. Padding and repetitiveness starts to creep in, very unusually for Simmons, not to mention quite some sentimentality in the relationship between Endymion and Aenea. The Shrike, the enigmatic killing machine that featured so memorably in the Hyperions has become something of a deus ex machina. It's still well worth reading, as some of the mysteries of the earlier novels are clarified. Simmons manages to pull off some memorably powerful setpieces, and the ending is moving.

In my review of the Hyperion Omnibus, I argued that despite the SF label on the cover, it was no exemplar of genre purity. In structure it was a quest fantasy, and borrowed from several other genres as well -- not to mention classical literature such as Chaucer and Keats. The Shrike could have been quite at home in a Clive Barker novel. The Endymion Omnibus is more overtly science-fictional, though the fantasy underpinnings are still there: in a sense it obeys Arthur C. Clarke's maxim that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Despite its flaws -- mostly due to running out of steam in the second half -- the Endymion Omnibus, in fact the entire tetralogy, amply demonstrates Simmons's ability to write on a huge scale, constructing epic-length narratives like this, which draw from the great traditions of narrative that have preceded it, and generally doing so very well indeed.

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