Book review: Endymion (Hyperion Cantos 3) by Dan Simmons

There are two kids of Hyperion fans.  Those who think the Cantos should have ended with The Fall of Hyperion and those who understand that the Endymion books stand on their own, as a separate duology in the same universe.  I fall into the second category.  I don’t see Endymion as a sequel, but as the beginning of a new two-book series, with its own theme, characters, and narrative structure, very loosely connected to the Hyperion books; only by a few fading memories.  With this perspective, Endymion is yet another amazing book from Dan Simmons.

Some 270 years after the conclusion of the Hyperion story, we find ourselves on the planet Hyperion again.  The human universe has changed since then.  The farcasters, portals for instant teleportation between the planets, are still standing, but are dormant since their underlying technology was destroyed, prompting the fall of the Hegemony.  In its place rules the Catholic Church and its military offshoot, Pax.  The church has perfected the cruciform, a parasite that infects a person’s nervous system and allows for the resurrection of anyone who dies.  People are no longer resurrected as imbeciles; they come back as if they just took a quick and painful nap.

This technology created two classes of citizens: Catholics, who enjoy all benefits of the new empire, and everyone else, who is treated as sub-humans.  Raul Endymion is one such sub-human.  He is a native of Hyperion, and the last in his series of his odd jobs it to serve as a hunting guide to rich catholic tourists.  After he kills one of those tourists in self-defense, he is sentenced to death.  Refusing to be infected with the cruciform, Raul prepares for permanent death.

Instead, he wakes up in the empty city of Endymion, populated now only by Martin Silenius, the poet from the original Hyperion pilgrim group, and a group of androids who keep Silenius alive.  Silenius tasks Raul to rescue Aenea, the daughter of another pilgrim, Brawna Lamia and her cybernetic lover.  Aenea entered the Time Toms to travel forward in time and is predicted to reemerge in a few days.  She needs rescuing from the church, which deployed contingents of soldiers, under the command of Father-Captain Frederico de Soya, to capture her.

Raul is assigned the consul’s old ship and an android, A. Bettik, to help him.  When Aenea emerges, she is accompanied by the homicidal monster The Shrike, which proceeds to massacre a large portion of the church soldiers.  Raul uses the cover of chaos to snatch Aenea and escape the planet on their ship.

With de Soya in pursuit, the small group of protagonists travel between planets.  De Soya is always a step ahead of them, in their much faster ship.  On one such planet, he manages to damage the consul’s ship, at the exact moment when the ship passes under a dormant farcaster portal, which miraculously works and sends them elsewhere.  Aenea reveals that she can activate the portals.  The ship lands in the river Tethys, which once flowed on numerous planets, connected through large farcaster portals.  It enters a self-repair mode, and the travelers construct a raft to float down the river, passing from one world to the next as Aenea activates the portals.

With no way to determine where the travelers went, de Soya is trawling the universe, until he finds a clue on Mare Infinitus, an ocean planet where the travelers crossed, and Raul was almost captured by the local Pax garrison.  At that point, de Soya is recalled back to Pacem, the seat of the Catholic Church.  He is assigned a new crew member, Rhadamanth Nemes, and is sent to a planet where Aenea is supposed to be present.  Unbeknownst to de Soya, Nemes is not human, instead more akin to the Shrike.  While all other crew members are busy getting resurrected – a side effect of the faster-than-light technology – she travels down to the planet, but she is too late.  The travelers already left.  So, she slaughters everyone with whom Aenea came into contact with and accesses the farcaster terminal to find out where Aenea went next.

De Soya becomes suspicious of Nemes, and so he programs the ship’s resurrection mechanism to reconstitute the crew’s bodies in a record short (and very risky) time, to see whether Nemes is up to something.  They arrive at the planet of God’s Grove, where Nemes already laid out traps for the group of travelers.  Just before she can decapitate Aenea, the Shrike shows up and starts battling Nemes.  Nemes is stronger, and severely injures the Shrike.  At that time, de Soya and his crew are awake and monitoring the battle, and they decide that their conscience does not allow them to help Nemes.  They fire their weapons from space, and even though Nemes is impervious to the energy beam, it melts enough bedrock under her to make her sink and become entombed in molten lava.  Aenea and her crew escape through the farcaster portal to the old Earth.

In my usual fashion, I focused on the central narrative and completely omitted the segues and more importantly, the characterization of the protagonists and the hero’s journey of one of the most unlikely characters.  In typical Simmons fashion, everything is intricately developed, and all makes sense in his universe’s internal logic.

While ostensibly the book is about the journey along different plants and the consequent inventive worldbuilding, its main strength, but also weakness lies in its characters.  The characters that tie Endymion to the previous three books are two pilgrims, Martin Silenius and Father Lenar Hoyt, who became the immortal (always resurrected) pope and the main driving force behind capturing Aenea.  Both are stripped down to a single dimension: Hoyt is barely in the picture, more of a force behind the curtain, and Silenius is a sad caricature of his old self.  The main protagonists face just slightly better.  Raul is the narrator, and even though he is supposed to be Aenea’s protector, he serves mainly as the receptacle for Aenea’s explanations.  And the occasional acts of foolish and misguided heroism…  A. Bettik is barely in the picture.  Aenea herself is a preteen girl full of mystery, full of hints towards the next book, but of very little substance in this novel.   Some may find it uncomfortable that this girl is obviously in love with the much older Raul, but Simmons is careful not to cross the lines of common decency.  Still, the characterization of the protagonists is probably the weakest part of the book.

Not so with one of the antagonists.  Father-Captain de Soya is a fascinating character with a very clear, very plausible redemption arc.  He begins as the captain of a spaceship flotilla that indiscriminately destroys peaceful colonies of the Ousters, an offshoot of humanity that adapted to live in space.  From there, he commands the hunt for Aenea, but as time goes by, his conscience begins taking over his blind adherence to the church doctrine.  This change is not exactly subtle, but still within plausible parameters.  I personally found him to be my favorite character.

Once again, Simmons shines is the worldbuilding.  Outwardly, it’s the contrast between different planets, their ecosystems, their inhabitants that once were human.  We meet several distinct cultures, perfectly adapted to their environments.  We also meet fascinating and quite sympathetic side characters.  However, the greatest strength lies in the universe’s politics.  In the previous two books, Simmons took a generic human interstellar empire and threw in one technology: farcasters.  He then explored all the political, social, and cultural changes that technology would bring.  In this book, he replaced the farcasters with the cruciform, a cross-shaped parasite that fuses with the skin of its victims.  He then repeats the same exercise and comes up with a plausible religious empire spanning countless star systems.  The segmentation of the society between Christians and others, and the cloak-and-dagger politics within the church are just added bonuses to the rich and complex system the author put in place.

Unlike the Hyperion books, Endymion never appears to have been designed as a standalone book.  It develops several plots that are promised to be concluded in the sequel, and its countless allusions to future developments can be occasionally frustrating.  Unlike its characters, the book seems to be going nowhere. It is still expertly written, and if you have the energy and patience to pick up The Rise of Endymion, this novel is fully worth it.  But you must be aware of the commitment: getting into Endymion requires a lot of time, and even though I found the full duology fulfilling, this book on its own doesn’t bring as much into the game as other titles in the Cantos.  I still recommend it as a great book, but in comparison with the others, this is the weakest of the series.

This entry was posted in Book reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.