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The Hyperion Omnibus

by Dan Simmons

(Gollancz, £12.99, 779 pages, trade paperback, Hyperion first published 1989, Fall of Hyperion first published 1990, this omnibus edition published 2 December 2004. Also available separately: Hyperion - Gollancz, 7.99, 473 pages, paperback, first published 1989, this edition published 8 December 2005; The Fall of Hyperion - Gollancz, 7.99, 535 pages, paperback, first published 1990, this edition published 1 December 2005.)

Review by Gary Couzens

In 1989, people had certainly heard of Dan cover scanSimmons. He had been publishing short fiction in major markets (then, as now, excelling at novella length) since 1982. His one novel to that time, 1995's Song of Kali (recently reprinted by Gollancz as a Fantasy Masterwork), has won the World Fantasy Award. But I doubt that many were prepared for what he then published: the novels Hyperion, Carrion Comfort and Phases of Gravity in 1989, with The Fall of Hyperion following in 1990. In part, this was a coincidence of publishing delays to Carrion Comfort, which failed to find a publisher at first due to its length: it runs to approximately 350,000 words (which in my paperback copy translates to 999 pages). The two Hyperions (often known collectively as the Hyperion Cantos, though Gollancz have not used this title) make a single novel of some 380,000 words, but this one at least did have a natural break in it. It wasn't just the size and epic scale of the novels that caused the impact, nor their undoubted high quality, but their diversity as well. Carrion Comfort is horror while the Hyperions are SF. (Meanwhile, the more modestly-scaled Phases of Gravity is a non-genre novel about a former astronaut.) Simmons had arrived with a loud bang, in what I have said before is one of the genre's great confluences of quality and quantity. It could be said that he's not lived up to that since. The question is, if anyone could.

Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion have a continuous narrative, but the two parts are very different in structure. It's the 29th Century. The Human Hegemony has spread across the spiral arm of our galaxy, the various planets linked by an information network of "fatlines" and instantaneous travel being possible by means of "farcasters". Humans live in coexistence with a society of AIs, but no-one really knows what their intentions are. The Ousters (modified humans) are threatening to invade. In Hyperion we are introduced to seven pilgrims selected to travel to the eponymous planet where exists the Time Tombs, a mysterious artefact where time appears to reverse. In the Time Tombs lurks the Shrike, a mysterious being with its own cult of followers and a nasty way of dealing with its victims. During the journey, six of the pilgrims (you'll have to find out why not all seven) tell their stories of their lives and their reasons for making the journey. Each of these tales (Hyperion is consciously modelled on The Canterbury Tales) is novella-length and told in a different style to the others, each filling in more of the complex background and advancing the plot. If Hyperion is really just 175,000 words of scene-setting, it's brilliantly done. Simmons's style is lucid and economical; despite the novel's great length you'll have to search hard for some extraneous matter and the prose is precise without drawing undue attention to itself. Characterisation is not in depth, but convincing enough for the story's purpose. Only one tic distracted me: the overuse of "lapis", with or without the "lazuli", as an adjective.

Hyperion ends with the pilgrims reaching the Time Tombs. The Fall of Hyperion takes up the story from then, expanding the number of characters. A reincarnation of the poet John Keats, a body created from DNA and a mind via AI download, who was introduced in the first volume, becomes more central here. (No accident: the two novels take their titles from Keats's poems about the fall of ancient gods.) Occasionally, Simmons moves into present tense for scenes filtered via the Keats character's mind. Things get complex, very complex -- possibly too much so for one reading -- but Simmons maintains control of his material.

Throughout his career, Simmons has proudly worked in various genres, often mixing them within the same novel. Phases of Gravity was published as SF, but is arguably mainstream. Carrion Comfort is horror, but with SF underpinnings. Hyperion (and from here count that as shorthand to include The Fall of Hyperion as well) has rightly been taken up by SF readers as a modern genre classic -- and I'm not about to dispute that -- but Simmons ably includes other genres in the mix. The pilgrims' tales include elements of noir, romance and satire, while the Shrike, with spiked arms and wrapped in razor wire and with a penchant for impaling its victims, would not be out of place in a Clive Barker horror novel. But, narratively, Hyperion is a quest fantasy. All the elements are here: individuals on a quest, the complex world-building, mysterious artefacts and the clock ticking to the end of the world. We even get a sense of deep time, glimpses of the far, far future and the ancient, ancient past (the nine worlds with labyrinths whose origin and purpose are, to quote another past SF epic, a total mystery). Such plot elements as Rachel Weintraub's reverse ageing would remain unchanged in a fantasy as a curse, as would the theme of the nature of godhead. If the background to Hyperion is SF, then it obeys Clarke's dictum that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

With Dan Simmons's work there's a sense, as John Clute has pointed out, of a love of genre competence for its own sake. He constructs these vast and complex epic narratives -- both in Carrion Comfort and here -- because he can. However, it's easy to argue that in Hyperion he has taken all these various generic elements and done them properly. The result is a triumph.

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