Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion

Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion is really the second part of one massive 900 page novel, the first part being Hyperion which was published the year earlier in 1989.  I have both in one volume, Hyperion Cantos, named after the massive epic poem being written by Martin Silenus, one of the characters.  I would strongly urge any potential reader to begin with Hyperion, for these really aren't separate works.  They are as separate as the three parts of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the second part of the Cantos begins immediately after the end of the first part.

In Hyperion, we meet the pilgrims who have inextricably been allowed by the Church of the Shrike to visit the Time Tombs on the planet  Hyperion, the first such visit allowed in a long time. The pilgrims have no idea of why they were selected while so many others were rejected, and, moreover,  at least one hadn't even applied for permission to visit.

The pilgrims agree to tell the story of an incident in their past which might be related to the pilgrimage, hoping that the stories might provide clues as to the puzzle of why they were selected.  Hyperion, therefore, is the recounting of past events and to some extent the troubles they encounter on their journey first to Hyperion and then to the valley of the Time Tombs.  Hyperion ends with the pilgrims walking abreast on the wide road leading into the valley, singing  "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz."
(See my posts of November 26 and 27, 2011)

The Fall of Hyperion begins immediately thereafter or approximately at that time since Einsteinian relativity does not allow for simultaneous events, at least in any objective sense of the word. The human government, The Hegemony has sent an armada to Hyperion to prevent the Ousters from taking over the Hyperion System.  The Ousters are human who have rejected the authority of the Hegemony.  In other SF novels, they are usually referred to as the Barbarians and travel in hordes, rather than organized units.  This undisciplined behavior results in their being underestimated by the more traditional military units facing them, with the usual outcome of what happens when one side underrates the other.

This not just a war of two combatants,  the Hegemony and the Ousters; there are three forces engaged in combat, something the humans didn't understand at first.  The third force is the AI:TechnoCore, the artificial intelligences that long ago broke free of human control and had their own plans for who or what should control the universe.  The Hegemony and the TechnoCore are supposedly at peace and cooperate whenever feasible. Both recognize that this situation can't last forever, but the TechnoCore has one highly significant advantage over the Hegemony:  the human planets were known to the Core, but the location of the Core was still a mystery to the Hegemony.  They didn't know if the Core's home was in the universe or in cyberspace, making it impossible to consider attacking it.

The novel interweaves the political infighting among humans in the upper ranks of the Hegemony, the physical combat between the Hegemony and the Ousters, the machinations of the AI: TechnoCore,  and the fates of the pilgrims as they attempt to resolve the question of why they were selected to come to Hyperion and survive amidst the fighting between the Hegemony and the Ousters and also to avoid being killed by the Shrike, the metallic monster that comes and goes and slays or kidnaps as it pleases.  Who or what is the Shrike and what is its role in the conflict are questions all face who are involved in the struggle for control of Hyperion.

Just as Hyperion had an inner structure related to Chaucer's  Canterbury Tales with considerable borrowing from Keats' poetry, so The Fall of Hyperion also has an inner stucture, also including the poetry of  Keats. The inner structure in the second part is that of various religious traditions that include as part of their doctrines the idea of the Judgement Day or the Last Days.

The AI have begun to realize just what the situation really is.   There is a conflict far in the distant future for the control of the universe.  Both sides have sent back representatives to aid those on their side of the struggle.  This is straight from the teachings, first of all, of Zoroaster,  the Persian mystic, whose dates range from 1800 B. C. to 600 B. C.  Some accounts push him as far back as 6000 B. C. He taught that there would be a great battle at the End of Days, in which the God of Light (good) and the God of Darkness (evil) would fight for supremacy, and they  would be joined by those humans who have chosen the side of the good and the side of the bad.  The battle would be decided by the size of the two forces, and therefore the outcome will be unknown until that day.  Christians, Moslems, and Gnostics, on the other hand, tell of the End of the Days, but it is a Judgement Day, for evil has already been defeated and the forces of Good are in control.

In Fall of Hyperion, which follows the Zoroastrian tradition,  the AIs have deduced that the two contending forces are the Ultimate AI and a human oriented consciousness, two godlike beings fighting for supremacy.  The Ultimate AI has sent back the Shrike to prepare the way for thousands of shrikes to destroy the Hegemony, while the human enhanced consciousness has sent back a representative to aid the humans.  While the overall theme follows the Zoroastrian tradition, I can see strong elements of both Gnosticism and Christianity here, for both tell us that the Supreme Being sends a part of itself to aid humans in the struggle against evil.      

One AI,  Ummon, plays a very significant role in the novel,  and it seems to come out of the Zen Buddhist tradition.  Ummon was a late 9th and early 10th century Zen Buddhist Master who founded one of the five major schools of Zen. in China.  He specialized in short, one word answers that made little sense in the context of the discussion.  Much of what the AI Ummon says are quotations taken from Keats' poem, "Hyperion."

Overall Comments: As in the first part, much of the fun comes from piecing out literary references and fragments from the life and times of John Keats. Being familiar with Keats and his time isn't necessary for understanding and following the plot, but it does add to the enjoyment, or at least it did for me.  It's an action-oriented tale that delights on several levels.  Since Hyperion ended as the pilgrims entered the valley of the Time Tomb singing "We're off to see the Wizard," it is only appropriate that Simmons has the survivors at the end of this novel leave the valley singing "Somewhere over the rainbow."

I think Dan Simmons thoroughly enjoyed writing the Hyperion Cantos.

Highly Recommended

P. S. There are actually two more novels in this universe.   The third and fourth novels are Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, which are set some time after the Hyperion Cantos, and some characters occur in both.  The titles are also based on Greek mythology which forms the foundation for a long poem  by Keats.  It's been years since I've read these two so I won't say anything more about them.  But, one of these days .  . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment