HYPERION – Dan Simmons, 1989

Working on a lot of script things over the years, one question that’s often come up in my mind is: “If you could adapt one series from whatever medium into film or television, what would it be?” And quite simply, it’s HYPERION. Standing as it does at #15 on the Top 100 Sci-Fi Novels Of All Time, and as such in the company of certified masterpieces, even still it leapt out at me for it’s incredibly rich and beautiful imagery, horrifying and literary language (the poet Keats is recognised as a huge influence on Simmons, and his presence is felt throughout the tale in more ways than one), and a Canturbury Tales style use of chaptered storytelling that weaves any kind of fantastical science-fiction together into a sprawling, faceted gorgeous story of stories, each stranger and more impressive than the last. Concepts and themes I’ve loved on other novels and films are here condensed and interwoven into a much larger whole. Perhaps its only flaw is that it ends on a total cliffhanger that picks up in THE FALL OF HYPERION – which I haven’t read just yet but plan to as soon as is humanly possible. I feel a real urgency to continue experiencing the tale that I have seldom have grab me so thoroughly, so as far as reviews go I can hardly lavish much more praise upon it without seeming facetious. Consider that my glowing recommendation.

Seven pilgrims on their way to the planet Hyperion on the brink of apocalyptic war recant the paths through their lives that have lead them to the final journey to the Time Tombs on the planet’s surface, to meet with the Lord of Pain who resides there, travelling backwards through time to spearhead mankind’s demise. Known otherwise as The Shrike, the creature beyond time has ties to each of the pilgrims, some of them having come into contact with it before in their lives. Three metres tall, four armed with glowing red fractal eyes, The Shrike is ambiguous, amorphous, enigmatic and terrifying; silent, faster than imaginable, made of a network of interwoven chrome blades and spikes that shift and roll over each other like the ungodly muscles on a living weapon (a quick google image search brings a myriad of different fan art concepts that each nail and fall utterly short of the creature at once). They are going to ask its favour, that humanity may be spared their imminent demise.

The journey is broken into a number of shorter stories focussing on each of the members of the final pilgrimage, broken by an equally fantastic account of the group’s journey towards Hyperion:

The Priest’s Tale: “The Man who Cried God”
Two of the final remaining priests of the Roman Catholic Church, decades apart, travel to Hyperion and discover a remote group of people who always number seventy, are completely incapable of grasping most subjects of thought, and may in fact be immortal. The one connection the priests are able to make regards the “cruciform”, which leads them beyond death and to our first contact with The Shrike.

The Soldier’s Tale: “The War Lovers”
Over his long military career, a colonel recants how through his virtual reality war training he came to be lovers with a mysterious woman within the simulations, and over a lifetime dreams of her as they come into contact over and again across space and time.

The Poet’s Tale: “Hyperion Cantos”
Following an accident in space transit, a poet loses his ability to communicate beyond strings of curse-words, and after centuries lost to space-travel comes to Hyperion, finding a muse in the enigmatic, elusive Lord of Pain.

The Scholar’s Tale: “The River Lethe’s Taste is Bitter”
The daughter of a Jewish academic becomes trapped on an archaeological expedition to the inert Time Tombs on Hyperion, and when she is recovered from inside she is discovered to be ageing backwards. Easily the most heart-wrenching of all the stories as a father watches his daughter, day by day, lose pieces of herself as she grows backwards from age twenty-seven to infancy.

The Detective’s Tale: “The Long Good-Bye”
Something of a cyber-punk, Noir-style detective tale, as a woman tries to help her client – a “cybrid” humanoid intelligence based on the reconstructed personality of poet John Keats – discover who has murdered him, and why.

The Consul’s Tale: “Remembering Siri”
And finally, a former planetary governor tells the Romeo/Juliet romance of himself as a young labourer and his native-girl love, whom he only ever knew in short visits between working on the construction of a far-caster (cross-world teleportation system) to link one of the last remaining planets into the universal web. Each trip he takes for his job causes a “time-debt”, and each time he returns he finds her older and changed though he remains roughly the same age, as the society of her world changes around them in anticipation of the completion of the device, and among the growing animosity of her people as they are forced to join a network of humanity that may only have interest in them for strip-mining resources and tourism.

None of these descriptions really give much away other than the very bare bones of the stories, there are innumerable rug-pulls, twists, turns and unexpected takes on what might seem like fairly straightforward tales. Each tale is as different to the others as it is rich and important to the overall story in its own right, and seeing those strings start to pull together with each new reveal and character – every one adds some new spin to all the stories that have come before. As I said, the only disappointment is that the story isn’t complete in itself as a single novel, but at the same time it’s exciting to already have the sequel queued up to see where it goes from here. The episodic nature of the tale so far (future installations don’t follow the same structure) establishes HYPERION as exceptionally promising for development into the sort of short-form, self-contained, high-end television production we’ve been seeing more and more of lately. There are some incredible visuals, complex characters and dense but engaging mythos – I’ve already ordered hard copies of both HYPERION and the immediate sequel to make adaptation development notes for my own curiosity/entertainment.

As such, the next review will be outside the Top 100, as I’m going straight into THE FALL OF HYPERION.

–Thom

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