Dan Simmons
Hyperion Cover

Hyperion -- Far Future Canterbury Tales?

Tar Daddoo

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

There are so many science fiction ideas presented in Hyperion that it is difficult to decide what to focus on. Undaunted, I'll choose two:

  1. a far-future in which people have spread out to the stars, and
  2. temporal anomalies of various sorts.

It helps to understand that Hyperion is a collection of tales, told by fellow pilgrims on a shared quest. Many of the tales involve some form of temporal anomaly, but over the course of the stories the history of mankind's spread to the stars unfolds.

It also helps to understand that Hyperion does not fully stand on its own. The tales are told, but the outcome of the quest is left to a subsequent story, The Fall of Hyperion. After that there are two more books in the series, but I fervently hope that the conflicts established in Hyperion are substantially resolved in only one sequel. (As you can tell, I have not yet read The Fall of Hyperion.)

Is the science of the premise explored?

For the first premise, we are offered the technologies required to enable expansion to the stars and a history to explain/motivate the expansion. Faster-than-light communication, teleportation, and starships are presented without much explanation. These are not the focus of the story. As for the history, there are many questions, but obtaining answers to these questions appears to be part of the point of the novel.

As for the temporal anomalies, they are revealed, but not really explained. Again, these are mysteries left to the sequel.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

The impact of humanity's spread to the stars is revealed through the various tales. This allows us to see how it has played out differently for different people. We are given the perspectives of a priest, a soldier, a professor, a poet, a private detective, and a "midshipman" on a starship. In some cases we can see how the history has had an impact on their story. In others, the story simply reveals the current state of affairs without addressing how or why they came to be that way.

As for the temporal anomalies, these are deeply woven into the individual stories. Indeed, the point of some of these stories is to make it clear how some temporal anomaly has altered the storyteller's life.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

Hyperion is more about revealing the state of this future society than exploring how it might have been or why it is the way it is. These questions may be left to the sequel. There are tantalizing hints, however, of the importance of the temporal anomalies for understanding mankind's situation.

How well written is the story?

I really like this novel, which is saying a lot given that it is almost 500 pages and without a clear resolution. It is frustrating to be completely engrossed in a story that doesn't finish.

Having said that, each pilgrim's tale is a satisfying short story in its own right. They are enormously engaging, well written, and, in some cases, quite poignant. In addition, the device of using an integrated collection of short stories to reveal the state of mankind works very well in Hyperion.

Can I recommend the book?

I can happily recommend this book, but I offer two cautionary comments. First, as I indicated, if you are in for Hyperion you are probably in for The Fall of Hyperion. I've already ordered the sequel.

Second, this novel does contain sexual scenes, some of which might be disturbing to some readers. I found them disturbing in some cases, but upon reflection that appeared to be the point. Taken as a whole, I felt the book was not harmed by these scenes, but I will not venture to speak for everyone.

Tar Daddoo