Tonawanda News

September 3, 2013

BOOK NOOK: 'Hyperion' a 'Canterbury Tales' set in the future

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — “Hyperion,” published in 1989, is the beginning of author Dan Simmons’ massive opus “The Hyperion Cantos,” detailing a future world eight centuries from now where mankind is on the brink of an intergalactic war.

For all of those who cringe at words like “future” and “intergalactic,” and those who are ready to walk away at the first mention of science fiction — hold on a minute. There’s plenty for the literary types to enjoy in this Hugo Award-winning novel as well. 

Take for example, “Hyperion’s” plot structure. Heavily influenced by “The Canterbury Tales,” “Hyperion” revolves around seven characters each telling their specific story, with each tale providing a missing link to the grand, overarching plot. From the military commander Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, to the priest Het Masteen, to the scholar Sol Weintraub, and more, each character tells a story from their past, and how it relates to the overall mission the group is on.

Simmons is splendid at creating a different voice for each character as they share their story. Some are journalistic in their approach to story telling, while others much more poetic. Some take their storytelling seriously, while others find it a farce. Impressively, Simmons is able to write seven almost entirely different short stories in this way, and to top it off, ties them together tightly with the larger storyline.

The seven tell their stories to pass the time as they head to see the “Time Tombs,” where legend has is that a single wish can be granted to whomever asks for it. However, the Time Tombs are known to be guarded by a god-like being known as the “Shrike,” who, as the legend goes, kills all who approach the Time Tombs other than those who he deems worthy.

Dan Simmons uses this idea, and the story-in-a-story concept, to create a universe with a wealth of history, conflict, drama and joy, heavily detailed to the point of sucking the reader into the imaginary universe. Think of “Hyperion” along the lines of Star Wars in this respect, without all the obsessive fans. 

“Hyperion” isn’t without its flaws, although they aren’t large enough to get in the way of what is otherwise an engrossing, well-conceived story. Simmons, for example, seems to derive a good deal of enjoyment from writing explicit sex scenes, which are expendable at best. Simply put, the scenes do nothing to progress the story, giving the author a means to write somewhat naughty words where he otherwise wouldn’t have been able.

While “Hyperion” is, in a way, a self-contained story, it also leaves readers on one heck of a cliffhanger to end the tale. It’s hard to explain this without spoiling the ending, but realize that you will feel both satisfied, and hungry for more, come the conclusion. Considering that “Hyperion” is more than 400 pages in length, and the sequel is about just as long, consider this a warning that potential readers are in for one long ride if they opt to dive in to the Hyperion story.

It is worth noting Simmons would go on to create a number of spin-offs from his “Hyperion Cantos,” the two books that tell the Hyperion story. The public opinion on these spin offs is iffy at best. For comparison, these spin offs are not unlike the paperback Star Wars stories you can find countless numbers of, in that while they do little to progress or affect the main story’s plot, they can be fun for diehard fans. The majority, of course, chooses to leave those books on the shelf. 

While Hyperion will certainly fulfill the science fiction fan’s craving for a futuristic universe they can get lost in, it holds a lot of literary merit as well. Although it isn’t going to challenge the landscape of literature in any significant fashion, it is a detail-rich, thoroughly thought out, complex novel that runs on a number of different levels. “Hyperion” touches on love and war, hope and happiness, pain and despair, the future and the past, all within its 429 pages. It’s a riveting read.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.

• WHAT: "Hyperion" • BY: Dan Simmons • GRADE: B