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Dan Simmons
Gollancz paperback £10.99

review by Debbie Moon

Thomas Hockenberry is a deceased academic who finds himself resurrected and hurled across space and time into the period he spent his life studying - the Trojan War. It's his duty to record each day's events and report to the fierce, jealous gods on Olympos whether the war is unfolding the way Homer later described it - but why does that matter? It's obvious to him that these near-immortals derive their power not from divinity, but technology. So why are they playing this lethal game with men's lives?
   Elsewhere (or elsewhen?), Daeman is an indolent womaniser enjoying a life where every human is guaranteed 100 years of health and pleasure before being taken to join the post-humans high above the Earth. But when his beautiful cousin starts to ask questions, and ultimately brings Daeman into contact with the Wandering Jew and a man who might be Odysseus, he reluctantly finds himself facing up to the harsh realities behind life's facade...    Manhmut is a creature adapted for the deep 'seas' of Europa, an explorer with a taste for Shakespeare and other dead works of (mostly) dead humanity. Chosen for a mission to Mars, where unexplained quantum events pose a threat to the whole the Solar system, he finds himself struggling to understand a society that shouldn't exist - and discovering that Olympus Mons has been transformed into an entirely different kind of Olympos...
   It's been a while coming, but Simmons' return to SF is well worth waiting for. Ilium is epic in every sense of the word, weaving together the fates of whole worlds, whole universes, in a tale that plays fast and loose with fate, time, creativity and freewill. He obviously knows his Homer, and captures the excitement and the wordy dignity of Greek myth in his re-imagining, but this is far more than an updating of The Iliad. The original tale, and Hockenberry's ultimate subversion of it, is more a jumping-off point for a meditation on how humans deal with higher beings - machine, post-human, or divine - and what happens when man decides to challenge the so-called natural order and seize control of his own fate.
   The characterisation is a particular delight; from rash Greek heroes to the lazily self-obsessed Daeman, the characters leap off the page. But perhaps the most striking feature is how much Simmons leaves unexplained, how many hints and theories are simply left for you to puzzle over afterwards. Ilium is probably one of the first great novels of the 21st century: both a deep book that will stand re-reading, and a fast paced thriller packed with action and imagination. Buy it immediately - you won't be disappointed.

Related item:
tZ  Darkling Plain: Dan Simmons interviewed by Michael McCarty


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