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Hyperion
Dan Simmons
Gollancz paperback £7.99

review by Alasdair Stuart

One of the most revered and complex science fiction novels of the last three decades, Hyperion is, superficially, a frame story. The world of Hyperion, home to bizarre life forms, several failed human colonies and a network of labyrinths no one can fathom the reason for, is in the process of being added into the World Web, the set of transportation gates that allow for instantaneous travel. But there's a problem; the Ousters, modified humans who oppose the hegemony of the World Web are striking at the world. To make matters worse, the Shrike, the legendary Death God of Hyperion is ranging further and further across the world. Out of the blue, seven pilgrims are granted permission to go to the Tombs and, as they come together, and tell each other their stories, the truth about Hyperion begins to emerge...

Dan Simmons' work is startling in both its scope and ambition. Deliberately echoing the structure of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, it combines seven very different voices under the umbrella of two central ideas; the nightmarish set of contradictions that is Hyperion, and the Shrike - the spike covered God of Death, and the rock at the centre of the story against which every character defines themselves.

What's most startling though is the sheer weight of ideas crammed into the novel. From the opening scenes following the ex-Consul to the world to the moment the pilgrims finally begin their journey this is a book filled with haunting, vast images of violence and longing, of artistry and death, all of which are contrasted with small, personal moments. The story of Lenar Hoyt, a sickly Catholic priest is particularly unsettling and the final image is horrific and certain to stay with the reader long after it's finished.

Likewise, the central ideas of the later stories, ranging from the idea that Hyperion itself is a virus of sorts to a highly unusual and deeply unsettling disease makes for incredibly rich and varied reading. In fact, if the book has a problem it's that in some places, it's simply too rich. The nods and structural beats borrowed from Chaucer and Keats, the vast array of science fiction ideas and the plots within plots mean that at times, it's difficult to not read it as an exercise in what interests Simmons rather than as a story.

That being said, Hyperion is a truly unique book with a truly unique voice. Simmons balances literature and history, character and plot with incredible depth and detail and the end result is a book which, whilst mannered in places, remains a startlingly resonant and powerful reading experience. If you've never read it, do so; it's really that simple. Just be prepared for the fact that, like the pilgrims, no one ever really leaves Hyperion.
Hyperion new edition

Hyperion paperback

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