Classic review: The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos 2) by Dan Simmons

How to match a classic such as Hyperion?  Write a sequel that’s different in narrative structure and overall theme.  Other great series had done the same, but many were merely inspired by the genius of Dan Simmons who did such an excellent job with this book.  So, instead of a collection of deeply personal and tragic stories, we have a sprawling space opera with battles, diplomacy, intrigue, but also the conclusion to some of those personal stories, viewed from an outsider’s perspective.

We left the characters in Hyperion as they walk towards the Time Tombs to confront the Shrike, a mysterious and murderous entity that can seemingly travel in time and space.  The world around them is falling apart.  The Ousters, a faction of humanity that took to living in space, is about to attack the planet Hyperion where the Time Tombs are located, and nobody is there to help our protagonists.  They are largely unaware of the big picture, but the big picture is fully aware of them.

Brawne Lamia, one of the pilgrims to the Time Tombs and the expecting mother of a child with the cybernetic being John Keats, is carrying not only their baby, but also the Keats personality in a neural implant.  The TechnoCore, a faction of independent A.I.’s, had created another cybrid based on the Keats A.I. persona, named Joseph Severn.  Due to the similarity between the two, Severn can passively observe what Lamia sees, and he can relay this information to Meina Gladstone, the CEO of the Hegemony.  Gladstone has plans on her own.  She wages a covert war against the TechnoCore, whom she suspects of attempts to enslave humanity.  To achieve her goals, Gladstone hopes that the dual distraction of the Time Tombs being opened by the pilgrims, and an Ouster attack on the planet would allow her to launch a surprise attack against the TechnoCore.

The pilgrims confront the Shrike one by one.  The poet Martin Silenus is taken by him and impaled on the Tree of Pain.  Lamia later rescues him.  The soldier Kassad confronts the Shrike and is transported into the future where he gets to fight him in single combat.  The priest Lenar Hoyt is killed by the Shrike.  Before the others can summon the Consul’s ship to preserve his body, Hoyt is resurrected via the cruciform he is wearing, into the body and mind of Paul Dure, another priest whose cruciform he’s been also wearing.  Saul Weintraub offers is daughter, Rachel, to the Shrike just before she’d die, and the Shrike takes her away.

All this is relayed by Severn to Gladstone, as they stay in the military command center, watching the coordination of the defense of Hyperion.  That is not going according to plan.  TechnoCore, which is responsible for calculating probable outcomes, is consistently wrong, and the Hegemony must commit more and more of its military resources to the planet.  Just as the military makes the last large push towards a decisive victory, more Ouster fleets are revealed, on vectors towards surprise attacks on multiple inner planets of the Hegemony.

The military scrambles its defenses in a hopeless delaying action.  Severn is sent by Gladstone to some of the planets under imminent threat.  On one such planet, the Templar God’s Grove, Severn finds out that the Ousters and Templars have formed an alliance, in order to overthrow the Hegemony.  Much to everyone’s surprise, the Ousters still attack God’s Grove, completely destroying the planet.  Severn barely escapes, but as he crosses to another planet through the instant teleporter known as a farcaster, he finds himself on old Earth, a planet thought to be destroyed by an artificial black hole centuries ago.

In the meantime, the Consul reunites with his ship and travels to space to negotiate a truce with the Ousters.  He finds out that the fleets attacking other planets are not Ouster, and he promptly informs Gladstone.  She realizes that the TechnoCore had been directly attacking the Hegemony and finds out that the artificial intelligences reside in the farcaster network.  She dispatches the remains of her fleet to take down the master farcasters.  This causes panic, mass rioting and civil wars on planets, which are suddenly cut from everyone else.

On Hyperion, Sol Weintraub’s daughter Rachel emerges from the Time Tombs as a grown woman, handing Sol her infant version, and sending them to the far future to raise her.  Lamia stays on Hyperion to give birth to her child, who is promised to be humanity next messiah.

The Fall of Hyperion differs from its predecessor in two significant ways.  First, it’s no longer a collection of shorter, personal stories of its protagonists.  Instead, it’s a sprawling space opera of an unimaginable scale.  Gone are the small vignettes of life on different planets, and instead we have a world that consists of a single tree whose trunk is hundreds of kilometers in diameter, epic space battles, and powerful scenes of anarchy on multiple worlds.  Still, Simmons doesn’t abandon the personal feel altogether.  He introduces an ingenious way of a god’s eye view, where he has the narrator to tap into the minds of the protagonists.  This creates a feeling of intimacy in a very turbulent world, and the reader gets to care about the characters again.

Second, the theme of the book changed.  Hyperion was about worldbuilding, with the protagonists coming from very diverse backgrounds, so everyone could reveal an aspect of their universe that was very original and gripping.  Together, these stories painted a comprehensive picture of human history, culture, and politics, since the reader’s present time.  The sequel changes all this.  While there are additional descriptions of worlds and events, they take a backstage to political intrigue.  This intrigue takes place on personal and global levels.  Severn is being distrusted by many, has to decide how much he reveals and to whom, and is ultimately forced to create alliances he’d never dreamt of.  Gladstone, at the heart of the Hegemony, has to contend with several plot twists that become obvious only after they are spelled out by the author, but she has very personal connections and clandestine preparations against every eventuality.  Simmons does a great job in balancing between the impact of the plot twists and by telegraphing them ahead of time.  In this regard, the reader will be entertained throughout the book: rarely expecting what would come next, but never frustrated by improbable events and twists for the sake of a shock value.

The book is indeed very entertaining.  It is a wild ride, but falling into the category of smooth and easy reads, so you won’t even notice how many pages you already turned.  It requires reading Hyperion first, and given the different structure and theme of the sequel, it may be off-putting for some readers who fell in love with the first book.  However, quality-wise it easily stands on its own.  The Fall of Hyperion is just as good as its predecessor, just in a different way, and as an added bonus, it offers a very well-thought-out conclusion to the pilgrims’ stories.  Even though the previous book offered a good ending for readers who wished not to continue with the series, I urge everyone to pick up this sequel and enjoy it.

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