Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hugo Winner Review: 1990 Hyperion

Dan Simmons
Completed 11/5/2013, Reviewed 11/5/2013
4 stars

I had been holding off on reading “Hyperion” in my Hugo quest because I thought it was JASO, just another space opera.  After all, it came from the peak of the space opera era of the Hugo winners.  Instead, “Hyperion” turned out to be rich collection of horror tales with a common theme: an unknown terror evolving on a planet in the politically volatile outback of the galaxy.

The basic premise is that a group of seven people are invited on a pilgrimage to ancient relics of unknown origin on the planet Hyperion.  To deal with the boredom and uneasiness of the trip, they tell the stories of their experiences with the planet, its paradoxical relics, or the enigmatic and violent god known as the Shrike.

The stories are diverse and fun.  My favorite story was the one told by the priest on the pilgrimage.  As is evident through my reviews, I have a fondness for theological SF.  The priest’s story, as well as the references to the cult of the Shrike in the other stories, was right up my alley.  The other stories are great too.  Each one is told from a very different cultural perspective.  Besides the priest, there’s the soldier, the poet, the “Wandering Jew,” the PI, and the consul.  My followers will also know I don’t care for military SF and cyberpunk.  But here, they add to the discovery of the awesome universe that Simmons created.

I think this is the first Hugo winner I’ve read which could be considered a horror novel.  Despite being prone to bad dreams, I love a good horror novel.  The Shrike is a terrible creature, reminiscent of some of Clive Barker’s creations.  We don’t exactly know what it is, god, demon, or just some terrifying alien.  It seems so powerful, and leaves such fear and destruction in its wake, that a galaxy-wide cult of the Shrike has emerged throughout the galaxy and has significant influence on the Hegemony, the central power comprising the majority of the planets and the virtual network between them.  To complicate matters, Hyperion is becoming the focal point of a military confrontation between the Hegemony and a band of separatists called the Ousters.  This combination of terror and war is driving away most of the population of the planet and creates a profound atmosphere of suspense.

My only disappointment with the book was that it was not exactly a self-contained story.  “Hyperion” is the first in a series of four books in “The Hyperion Cantos.”  This book stops after the stories are told, but before the pilgrims meet the Shrike.  I assume the confrontation occurs in the next book.  However, unlike other book which were part of a series and just ended without resolution, like Cherryh’s “Cyteen,” I didn’t mind that the climax occurs in the next volume.  The collection of stories and their role in unveiling Simmon’s universe created an extremely satisfying read. 

I gave this book 4 stars.  It has great prose and great character development.  It is a horror story within a SF framework, told in a format that kept me turning the pages with anticipation.  It is one of the few Hugo winners that made me want to read the sequel.

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