Book review: The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos 4) by Dan Simmons

All good things must come to an end, and so does one of the most influential science fiction series, the Hyperion Cantos.  The Rise of Endymion is probably the most divisive of the four books, and it left many fans bitter.  It does have its drawbacks, but I found it better than its predecessor.  Simmons dials his worldbuilding skills to eleven, gives a little life to some of the characters, and spins a compelling, yet somehow familiar philosophy.

The narrator, Raul Endymion, and Aenea, the little girl who is promised to be mankind’s next messiah, arrive at old Earth.  The planet had been hijacked by extraterrestrial forces, and only select few people are able to travel there, to conduct very specific business.  Aenea becomes one of the apprentices to a simulation of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Raul hangs around, helping in the compound.  A few years pass, until the architect “dies”, and his apprentices must travel back to their worlds.  Aenea warns everyone to vacate Earth.

She decides to stay a little longer, while sending Raul away to fetch the consul’s ship, which was abandoned after it was damaged during an engagement with the Pax, the military arm of the Catholic Church, which rule the human universe.  Reluctantly, Raul leaves through a farcaster, an instant teleportation portal, to continue his travels along a series of worlds until he finds the ship.

What follows is a somewhat dull travelogue, obviously padded for length, where Raul has many misadventures, from being sidelined with a kidney stone, to being swallowed by a giant translucent whale-like creature on a gas giant.  The most significant event he was facing is an encounter with Rhadamanth Nemes and her three “sibilings”.  Nemes had been the primary antagonist of the previous book, an artificial being with particularly strong homicidal tendencies against Aenea, but not too discriminating against others in this regard, either.  Her companions are of the same kind.  They catch up with Raul and almost catch him, but even though he escapes they are on his trail, they hope that he’d lead them to Aenea.

Raul does exactly that when he gets to the ship and travels to the planet T’ien Shan.  The journey takes about five years of external time, during which Raul doesn’t age, but Aenea grows into a young woman.

In the meantime, the Pope declares a crusade against the Ousters, the offshoot of humanity that adapted to life in space.  Father-Captain Frederico de Soya, who was relegated to a village priest for stopping Nemes from killing Aenea, is called back, to participate in the incursion into Ouster space.  He and his crew soon realize that they are massacring innocent civilians, including newborn babies, they mutiny, and take their ship.  They spend the next few years harassing the Pax logistical lines, in order to slow down their progress against Ousters.

T’ien Shan is a Buddhist planet consisting of sheer mountains against an ocean, and Aenea serves there as an architect for a new temple.  She is reunited with Raul, and they become lovers.  Raul, however, finds out that during her five years away from him, Aenea spent nearly two of them married, and bore a child.  Raul has conflicting feelings of jealousy and love, and even though he presses Aenea for details, she refuses to give him any.  Instead, Aenea is busy converting everyone on the planet to her cause.  She carries a DNA virus, which physically converts her followers: they gain the ability to access the quantum realm, and thus share thoughts, present or past, but at a cost of losing the ability to ever wear the cruciform, a parasite that resurrects anyone who died into a healthy state.  Ultimately, the converted ones may be able to instantly travel anywhere in the universe.

A short while after Raul arrives, a Pax ship carrying the Catholic Grand Inquisitor and the three surviving Nemes clones arrive, with the task to capture Aenea.  The Shrike, Aenea’s unstoppable killing machine appears as well, threatening the Inquisitor until he backs off.  De Soya arrives in the orbit, but is ambushed and escapes on the verge of death to the planet.  Aenea collects her most important followers, rescues de Soya, and makes her way to the consul’s ship.  The Nemes clones mutiny, nearly kill the Inquisitor, and set off to stop Aenea, but are picked off one by one by the Shrike, until only Nemes is left standing.  Raul battles her himself and somehow manages to stop her.  The full ship escapes to a templar tree.

The Templars, a faction of humanity that aligned itself with the Ousters, travel via giant ships, and built a living, tree-like lattice of a Dyson Sphere around a star.  Aenea, her followers and some of the original pilgrims from Hyperion regroup there, but not for long, as the Pax arrives shortly thereafter and starts torching the entire megastructure.  Aenea escapes once more, this time by teleporting the tree ship she is on to various star systems.  On each one, she drops off some of her followers with very specific instructions.

The last system is Pacem, the seat of the Catholic Church.  She confronts the Pope, but is quickly captured and tortured to death.  Raul is sentenced to a different kind of death: a lifelong stay in a small bubble floating around a star, where a Schrödinger box is bound to kill him at a random moment.  He is driven nearly insane when Aenea is killed, as he feels everything through their quantum connection.  He then spends his time writing his memoirs, which make up the books Endymion and The Rise of Endymion.  It is at this point that he realizes that he didn’t try the ultimate gift of his conversion: instant travel.  He tries, and finds himself on Pacem, where he meets de Soya.  He finds out that Aenea’s death was felt everywhere and became the trigger for an anti-Pax revolution.  People whom Aenea left at different planets became crucial for organizing these rebellions.

Raul takes de Soya, and together they travel to Hyperion to meet Martin Silenius, the old poet who sent Raul on his travels.  The templar tree ship also arrives, they board it and all of them travel to the solar system where they find that Earth had been restored to its old place.  Silenius asks to be brought down to die on his home planet.  Once on the surface, Aenea emerges and is reunited with Raul again.  She traveled in space and time to have de Soya marry her to Raul, so that she can spend the next two year with him and bear his child.

In case you didn’t realize, this book is choke-full of content.  There’s much more than that, though.  Even though Simmons spends most of his time merging all side stories back into one coherent narrative to close them all, he still spends time to create short segues.  In addition, his religious philosophy mode is turned to maximum, as he tries to merge Buddhism and Christianity into a sort of future history of religion.

The deviations from the main narrative are probably the weakest part of this book.  I’m a big fan of branching storylines, but here the author already has so much ground to cover that adding small asides is just cluttering the book and breaking the rhythm.  We have an extended part where Raul is suffering from a kidney stone, and another where he falls through the atmosphere of a gas giant.  Both add almost nothing to the story, just a lot of extra pages.  Simmons seems to be conflicted whether he should turn Raul from a narrator into a protagonist.  He has him suffer and do completely unnecessary heroic deeds (battling Nemes), but on the other hand he still treats him as a reader’s insert for exposition dumps.  The different cadency of Raul’s extra adventures also breaks the narrative flow.

A different, but also common complaint about flow-breaking segues is Simmons’ religious philosophy.  The author is spinning a future history about potential human physical (the Ousters) and spiritual (Aenea) evolution.  While the Ousters are being kept well within the story flow, and actually serve their purpose as the noble savages who help de Soya turn sides, Aenea’s spiritual teachings take place in her lectures and cryptic messages of the “you’ll have to figure it out yourself” type.  On T’ien Shan, Aenea holds several public lectures and a few private ones with Raul.  Simmons is not very sensitive to the narrative flow and doesn’t place these breaks in action all too well.  I personally didn’t mind too much, since I found the philosophy to be quite engaging, but other readers may have a different perspective.

Character development has seen improvement in this book.  Aenea is no longer a small child who just knows what to do and blindly follows her path.  She is a young woman of action, not afraid to confront others.  De Soya gets a new redemption arc, just as compelling as the old one.  He is swayed back by the Pax, but once again his consciousness rebels, and this time he’s even more of a man of action.  Raul is just as one-dimensional as before, despite the author’s best efforts, but this is offset by a multitude of one-dimensional but idiosyncratic bit characters who flesh out the story.  The Technocore, the entity that contains all AI beings and which secretly manipulates the Catholic Church, sees its representative have emotions beyond detached superiority for the first time.

The author’s worldbuilding is superb as usual.  His set pieces, in particular T’ien Shan and the templar World Tree are vivid and very compelling.  Aenea’s last journey, where she drops off her friends in various locations, ties the worlds together and gives additional context to their interactions.  My only disappointment was that the political intrigue was largely dumbed down, relegated to a couple of very obvious tropes.  The Technocore became almost cartoonishly evil, and the Church became an inept tool.

Political intrigue was replaced by the author’s future New New Testament.  The final act is essentially a wishful retelling of the Crucifixion.  Instead of having the meek inherit the Earth (or human universe in this case), Aenea is a very different kind of messiah, far more assertive, and even though she also knows about her impending torture and death, she prepares her followers for a violent uprising.  I found this ending to be very cathartic, and an appropriate end to the Endymion series.  Above everything else, The Rise of Endymion excels at tying its lose ends.  It’s by no means perfect, but it is still far better than any other book of similar complexity I’ve read.

I personally enjoyed The Rise of Endymion a little more than its predecessor.  It seems to be everything at once: a wild ride of wild ideas, action-packed space opera, a philosophical treatise on religion, and so much more.  It has inventive spaceship design, shape-shifting killer machines, big dumb objects, and even aliens.  The book may be a little too dense with all that content, and some sections do feel like a slog, but it offers a very good conclusion of the entire series.  For me, all that reading (which was occasionally hard work) paid off here, in a most entertaining and insightful fashion at once.

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