“FALL OF HYPERION” – Dan Simmons (1990)

Shrikes are passerine birds of the family Laniidae. The family name, and that of the largest genus, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for “butcher”, and some shrikes are also known as “butcher birds” because of their feeding habits –  known for catching insects and small vertebrates and impaling their bodies on thorns, the spikes on barbed-wire fences or any available sharp point. This helps them to tear the flesh into smaller, more conveniently-sized fragments, and serves as a cache so that the shrike can return to the uneaten portions at a later time. — Wikipedia

It’s something of a tricksy task trying to analyse the sequel to HYPERION, in that it’s not so much a sequel to what has almost instantly become my favourite sci-fi novel ever as it is a continuation of the story picking up immediately from the pilgrims’ arrival at the Time Tombs on the titular planet at the very end of the first book. So really, the two should be viewed as a single story in two parts and ideally I’d have thus reviewed them together, but there’s jsut so much to each of them in their own right as well that it was certainly wiser to do it in halves. Eschewing the Canterbury Tales structure of the previous volume, THE FALL OF HYPERION is not more about the groups’ individual reasons for coming to the planet to ask The Shrike for a single wish as it is the story of what those wishes are and the consequences they will come to have for all of existence.

In a rather brilliant stroke, the plot is overseen by one Joseph Severn, the second coming of the poet John Keats’ reconstructed persona – Severn was a real person, present with Keats in the final weeks of his life as he died of tuberculosis in Rome far from his only love and all of his remaining friends, trying (and failing) to complete his final epic poem entitled, funnily enough, The Fall of Hyperion. With the previous incarnation of Keats embedded in a neural implant in Brawne Lamia’s skull, he shares a loose psychic oversight with the pilgrims and experiences elements of their individual journeys within his dreams as they begin to re-scatter now that they are at their destination and things begin to go even more pear-shaped than any of them could have expected. His sections excellently bookend each segment of each of the pilgrims from the last book while keeping an overarching eye on the grander themes and plot, so I was extremely pleasantly surprised to find the the change in narrative format actually enhanced the shifted direction of the story. There are so many rug-pulls and twists and turns that it’d take an entire novel of description in itself to describe (and ruin the enjoyment of first-hand experience in the process), but none of the pilgrims end up on a path that any of them could have predicted, and ultimately through time and space, memory, reincarnation, technology, betrayal, and cruel fate they each face The Shrike – a creature that only becomes more nightmarishly enigmatic as they approach their objectives and are forced to question whether there is indeed anything at all to be done about the impending cataclysm. Each story’s continuation is as radically different from the others as it goes on, offering a huge scope of thoroughly well-executed storytelling and fascinating, high-concept developments.

While largely regarded as being unfilmable, picturing both HYPERION novels as two seasons of ten or so hour-long episodes is just so perfect that I’m amazed nobody’s actually attempted it – there’s talk of film adaptations in the works currently, but I’m extremely reluctant to get behind that idea due to the massive condensation required for a film or even three and the resulting loss of detail and character-building that’s so integral to the structure and flow of the story – there’s no way to compress a single character’s arc without corrupting the overall narrative (save perhaps for some of the tangental Severn plots largely dealing with the ongoing war in the space surrounding the planet Hyperion). Having an entire previous novel dedicated to the growth and motivation of characters (eg. season one) and then flipping the board over and making them each go through their own personal hell and begin questioning the very motivations that brought them to Hyperion (eg. season two) was an absolutely excellent way to handle it, for sure.

And here I’ve managed to pull off a glowing recommendation without spoiling an iota of the plot, really, so I should leave it here. If anything, I count both titles as a single novel in two parts, and maintain they are the absolute highlight of my jaunt through the Top 100 Sci-Fi Novels of All Time so far, and will be hard to top.

Yet to decide on the next book (it’s going to be tough for whatever follows these two), but ought to have something up at some stage next week and am around about 1/3 of the way through painting the third chapter of A STORM IN A TEACUP, so stay tuned.

— Thom

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