Saturday, September 30, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Dan Simmons' Hyperion Quartet


Dan Simmons' Hyperion Quartet has become an acknowledged classic of contemporary science fiction. A stunning galaxy-spanning space opera with literary debts to Chaucer and Boccacchio, the story is set in motion in the first volume, Hyperion:
In the 27th century, humanity has spread across the galaxy, first aboard "Hawking drive" ships and then through "farcasters", which permit nearly instantaneous travel regardless of distance. However, many planets are of little economic interest and disconnected from the farcasters. These planets can only be reached by spaceship, resulting in time dilation effects which cause "time debt" accruals.
The farcaster network (the "WorldWeb") is the infrastructural and economical basis of the Hegemony of Man and thus determines the whole culture and society. Also flowing across these portals are the structures of the datasphere (a network reminiscent of the Internet in design, but far more advanced). Inseparable from mankind's technologies is the powerful, knowledgeable, and utterly inscrutable TechnoCore, the vast agglomeration of millions of AIs who run almost every piece of high technology of mankind. The unthinking hubris of man resulted in the death of the home-world (Earth)—which was consumed by an artificial black hole running out of control—and this arrogant philosophy was carried forth to the stars, for centuries.
The Hegemony itself is a largely decadent society, relying on its military to incorporate into the WorldWeb the colony planets, even unwillingly, and to defend the Hegemony from attacks by the Ousters, "interstellar barbarians" who dwell free of and beyond the bounds of the Hegemony and shun all the works of the TechnoCore (especially farcasters). Ostensibly a direct democracy governed through the "All Thing" forum, the Hegemony is also managed by a chief executive officer advised by the TechnoCore advisory council and the Hegemony Senate.
All the 'Core's advice and predictions are confounded by mysterious structures on the remote colony world Hyperion (named after the moon of Saturn) that are commonly regarded as the Time Tombs. The tombs are encased in an anti-entropic field that is theorised to be carrying them backwards in time (suggesting that the tombs were built in the distant future for some unknown purpose) and are said to be guarded by a legendary time travelling creature known as the Shrike. The Shrike is the subject of a cult, the Church of the Final Atonement, commonly known as the Shrike Church. Occasionally the church sends a prime number of pilgrims to the Time Tombs; there is a legend that all but one are slaughtered and the remaining pilgrim is granted a wish.
The Ousters have been long obsessed with Hyperion, and on the eve of their invasion and a probable war, a final pilgrimage has been organised. Seven pilgrims have been carefully selected by unseen elements of the TechnoCore to make the journey to the Time Tombs and the Shrike, with the objective of aiding the Hegemony in the imminent war. Aboard a treeship the pilgrims finally meet after being revived out of their cryogenic storage state; and, collectively overwhelmed by the mystery and magnitude of their situation, they decide that they will each tell their tale to enliven the long trip to the Tombs, to get to know each other, and to make sense of their situation. Simmons uses this device to unfold the panorama of this universe, its history and conflicts, and each story gives a greater context to the others. The story opens in medias res with the Consul recalled to the WorldWeb and the seven pilgrims (the infant Rachel does not count) drawing lots to see who will tell their tale first in the hopes of revealing a reason they were chosen and how to survive.
The story continues, with many a fabulous adventure and exotic locale, in the uniformly excellent follow-ups, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. And the whole saga is beautifully written! Try this one, you won't regret it.  

3 comments:

  1. I read it all, liked it a great deal, and I never figured out quite what was going on.

    Richard Healey

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  2. Exactly my sentiments, Richard. Hugely entertaining ideas and imagery made up for an opaque plot.

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  3. Yes, the plot is baroque in its complexity and extremely hard to follow but great fun nonetheless. Have now read it twice and I'm still confused.

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