The Hyperion Cantos

Last night, I finished the final book in Dan Simmon‘s epic science fiction tetralogy1, the Hyperion Cantos. My immediate reaction to the series’ conclusion was that I only want to read it again. They are just that great of a read.

In fact, if anyone who knows me had read these previously and didn’t recommend them to me, we are no longer friends. I am sincerely angry that I didn’t read these as soon as they were published (though getting to read the whole series back-to-back is at least some compensation). I spent a portion of my college years looking for more novels like Frank Herbert’s Dune and, as it turns out, Dan Simmons was writing them at that same time.

In spite of my significant and legitimately earned geek-cred.2, I have to confess a lack of knowledge when it comes to some of the high literature of science fiction. I have done my best and was raised well3, but I had decided that I needed to really educate myself on scifi and fantasy literature. So, I added any Hugo or Nebula winning books to my audiobook wish list at the library. By luck, Hyperion happened to be one of the first that was immediately available.

I didn’t have to get too far into that book to see that it was going to be something special. Oh, at first, it seemed like a science fiction version of Chaucer, but I’m pretty sure Chaucer didn’t have a Shrike; a creature describe with such terrible details that actually found myself looking over my shoulder at night. Something can be said for any book that can elevate your heart rate.

And though the Shrike thing is undoubtable why many are attracted to the book, it is the sense of mystery and promise that something lies deeper. The reader quickly senses that there are layers here; that the story is unfolding in something other than a straight line. In fact, throughout the series, we learn that the events aren’t even simply parallel but truly nonlinear.

Simmons uses various writing styles and literary devices, but always with a sense of purpose. When it I first feared that Simmons was simply exercising, it would later see that whatever device was in play served the story rather than some writer’s need to experiment. What’s more, there is a real sense of closure at the end that can only come from a writer’s long planning and effort. Though at times, Simmons could have left a little more to the imagine of his reader rather than grab them by the collar and shake them, I never felt a sense that he forgot the previous events in this epic.

What’s more &emdash; and this is where I feel that the Hyperion Cantos is closest to the Dune series &emdash; is that even though this is an epic journey, with events spanning a millennium and detailing the evolution of the human race, the story focuses on a few key figures and remains a personal story of their journey. Journey, in the Hyperion Cantos, is a word which Simmons also embues with every meaning possible. Again, what feels like something which could have started as a creative writing exercise is place in perfect context to serve a greater story. I must not be alone as this is a series where each book was nominated for notable literary awards, with three of the novels winning one or more awards. Though this is truly a book that has all of the trappings of science fiction, the personal tales are the elements which make it great. I can tell you with no sense of shame that there were moments that brought tears to my eyes.

So, if it is clear: go read these books if you haven’t. I won’t be the kind of friend who doesn’t recommend them. And, if any of you have any similar recommendations for me, you’d better make them now before I find them on my own. Else, we’ll be having words, my (former) friend.

Which reminds, me I need to get back to my library list and see whatever great gems are out there that I have missed, including some others by Simmons.

  1. Though, it seems that Simmons feels these are really two novels, broken apart for publishing. []
  2. Seriously, I throw down with you nerds any time. I was born a nerd and ain’t no Johnny-come-lately to this stuff just because skinny guys with iPods are cool. []
  3. Some of my very first memories are of hobbits sneaking into Mordor, as my mom read Tolkien to my brother and me. []