Odyssey, Anxiety and “THE RISE OF ENDYMION” – Dan Simmons (1997)

Of all the (now 23) novels that I’ve absorbed by audiobook in the past six months, none has had such serendipitous timing with other events in my life as THE RISE OF ENDYMION, the last in a series of four within Dan Simmons’ HYPERION universe. Just a quick clarification on that: HYPERION (CANTOS) and THE FALL OF HYPERION are a single, self-contained story told across the first pair of novels, while ENDYMION and THE RISE OF ENDYMION are their own complete story across a second pair that are set several centuries in the universe’s future that both function as a more traditional Hero’s Journey/Monomyth-type tale but also augments, alters, informs and reveals larger truths and obscurities behind the previous two novels’ tellings. There are innumerable resonant quotes throughout all four of the HYPERION books on life, death, immortality, love, vengeance, resurrection, trust, faith, truth, time, evolution, technology, humanity, inhumanity, myth, poetry, fable, story and all the spaces in between – it’s impossible to drop a single one without wanting to cross-reference it with a dozen more. I will hardly even touch on the actual journey of Raul Endymion, Aenea, the android A. Bettik, the fantastic Shrike (the truth of which we finally learn in twist of irony so poignant to certain characters in the series that even uttering that much verges on spoilers) or the host of other characters pursuing and aiding them, including a monstrous “woman” so brilliantly, threateningly beyond-Terminator-esque as to give even the legendary Shrike a run for its money.

As for my aforementioned personal stake, closing in towards the last stretches of the roughly 96 combined hours of audio I was somewhat spontaneously road-tripping away from the city by myself following the most severe anxiety attack of my recent life (no thanks to the side-effects of a stop-smoking drug, overextending myself in general and other cumulative external factors) when I was closing in on the off-ramp that would lead away from my planned destination somewhat, but would take me through my old hometown. I have two or three weeks of registration remaining on my car, a scant few months remaining in the country before leaving for overseas with an indeterminate, potentially infinite end-date, and as I am rotating these things in my mind as anxiety is apt to do, I hear:

“The universe deepened at that moment, the music of the spheres grew from a mere chorus to a symphony as triumphant as Beethoven’s Ninth, and I knew that I would always be able to hear it when I wished or needed to, always be able to use it to take the step I needed to see the one I loved, or, failing that, step to the place where I had been with the one I loved, or, failing that, find a place to love for its own beauty and richness.”

And so at the very last second I take the exit and proceed to drive alone back to the places I grew up, choosing the old roads travelled most often and eschewing the newer, more convenient expressways that cut great sterile swathes through places in my memory and erase several points from my archival maps in the name of progress and convenience. Sometimes new roadworks diverged my intended tracks and completely by accident took me to places I had forgotten I had ever been, through towns now obscured by newer, clearer experiences and relegated to dreams and abstractions; places that fold over each other in my sleep and are inhabited only by shades and ghosts of people I once knew. The word “bittersweet” is rote and cliché, but nonetheless apt. My primary and high-school and kindergarten, playground, corner stores, cafes. My first three jobs. My first three universities. All of my childhood family homes, all changed in some way, and several of those belonging to friends and family and lovers now absent, lost or dead. Places where people that shaped me were met, connected, forgotten or forsaken. The stretch of farmland where I first took LSD without realising how long the experience lasted and spent the night watching the walls breathe and pictures yawn and spiders the size of Volkswagons march through the fields in the moonlight, then had to go to work the next morning still in its throes. The Outlaws bar where we tried to emulate Hunter S Thompson by taking mescaline and vomiting for an hour then potting the 8-ball on the third shot of a game of pool with enormous terrifying bikers who later made us pizza and laughed at our friend who thought the whole world had turned blue and he was the only one who understood. The park near a party house where I kissed the first girl I ever slept with and cared for without fear of betrayal or abandonment (high-schoolers can be c**ts, as directionless cacophonies of hormones are apt to be, but those are other stories), and then years later returned to with another friend to pick our first magic mushrooms and discuss his women troubles. This friend later went overseas and returned… hollowed… before leaving again, only for us to learn of his death years later and still never finding out exactly how or why. Getting as far as the front gate of the home of someone to whom I gave too much of myself in effort to try and save from chronic depression and realising that he is now only a memory to me and a closing wound on my own anxiety… and leaving immediately, likely forever. Finally, back on the road again to solitude in the wilderness through towns I forgot I knew and onward into new places.

“This degree of love of life and of one another is granted, I saw for once and for ever, not to immortals, but to those who live briefly and always under the shadow of death and loss.”

With that, I sat alone on Norman Point at Wilson’s Promontory in the dark as rain and wind threatened to push me into the thunderous waves below, lightning struck the sea and all my sources of light and communication ran out of battery. I realise that I haven’t said so much about the odyssey contained within THE RISE OF ENDYMION as I have mirrored it to my own escape from threads and tangles that have held me back from being as close and loving to those I cherish. But ultimately, this was the most relevant arc of all the fantastical wonder contained within the novels, and indeed the reason why so many create and put so much, often too much, of themselves into the grand effort of communicating their own distinct human experience to others. While there is a peacefulness and poetry to some thoughtful melancholy at times, anxiety and depression are worthy of more elaborate curse words than I invented and immediately forgot during the same stormy night in solitude when a wombat suddenly tore a hole though my tent and took the sandwich I had been making. But mindfulness allows one to belittle them and turn them to humour and mock them out of existence. Now that this wave has broken and rolled back and I am again at peace with the world at large, I thank all of those in my life that laugh and joke and know not to worry or treat anyone under its thumb as though they are made of glass.
Or much more bluntly: fuck anxiety.

“Nothing had ever been so welcome by its absence.” — Dan Simmons, THE RISE OF ENDYMION (1997)

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