(Gollancz, £10.99, 576 pages, trade paperback, also available
in hardback priced £17.99, published 21 August 2003; ISBN: 0380978938/057572601.)
the dark plain of Ilium Greeks and Trojans are locked in combat for
the ninth year of their brutal war. On each side the great heroes wreak
havoc. Arms and legs are lopped off, heads go spinning away as blood
gouts out in crimson fans, arrows plunge into men's guts and end up
protruding from their anuses...
While the heroes battle it out, the Gods cavort on Mount Olympos. Zeus,
Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo, scheme, aid and abet their
favourites, playing cruel and brutal games of manipulation. Scuttling
here and there to assist them are the lesser deities, such as Melete,
the Muse, who musters a small band of Scholics to monitor the fighting
What, you wonder, are Scholics? Well, Scholics are Homer specialists,
men like Professor Thomas Hockenberry, a teacher of classics at the
University of Indiana in the 1990s, who has been reconstituted from
fragments of DNA in order to serve the Gods and ensure that the ongoing
war does not deviate significantly from Homer's epic poem.
Is this beginning to seem a bit strange to you?
Well, it gets stranger. While the action of the seige of Troy is (so
far as one can tell) being played out on Earth in the appropriate year
1,200 BC, Olympos, where the Gods dwell, is in fact Olympos Mons, the
great Uber-Volcano of Mars, and the year in which the Gods are dwelling
there, though undisclosed, is probably something like 4,000 AD.
Gods and Scholics pass to and fro through time and space by Quantum
Telepathy, a dangerous technology that greatly worries the sentient
robots, known as Moravecs, who inhabit the outer Solar System at this
time. So much so that they send an intervention team to deal with the
situation. Prominent among the team is the Europan, Mahnmut (a dedicated
Shakespeare afficionado), and Orphu the Ionian (who is an absolute nut
Is this beginning to seem very strange to you?
Contemporary with the Moravec plot-line, we also have a cast of characters
living on Earth in a state of comfortable, ignorant, pleasure-seeking
bliss, until their lives are disrupted by the interference of Savi,
a 1,400 year old Jewess, who breaks the unpleasant news that their lotus-eating
existence is a fool's paradise ending in untimely and brutal death.
If that were not enough we have to deal with the previous existence
and mysterious disappearance of a whole sub-species of humanity, known
as Post-Humans, and the development of various very unpleasant entities,
or possibly deities, drawn apparently from Shakespeare's bitter play,
Is this beginning to seem EXTREMELY strange to you?
Well strange it certainly is, but it is also a very coherent, tautly
written, colourful, compelling piece of fiction, which displays Simmons'
very considerable narrative talents at their best. Simmons is one of
the most intelligent, and deliberately literary writers in the science
fiction genre. Ever since he wrote Hyperion, in 1989, he's been
building worlds with a tangible connection to the great novels, poems
and plays of the classical canon. In that instance he took the central
device of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales -- a group of pilgrims each
telling each other a story as they proceed on their pilgrimage -- and
applied it to a brilliant far-future quest.
In Ilium he has used the greatest poem of classical civilisation,
blending it with key motifs from Shakespeare. The whole is played out
through the struggles of a memorable cast of characters, and the four-ply
plotline comes together in a fully satisfying unity, though there are
still mysteries to be resolved (for which one must await the sequel).
In short, a story full of striking world-building; challenging and
intriguing by turns, very fast paced, and often horribly violent. First
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