Book Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons (1989)

Release: 1989
Release: 1989

I’ve probably seen Dan Simmons’ novel Hyperion gracing the shelves of bookstores hundreds of times, and never picked it up. It wasn’t until reading an article about the novel that I decided to pick it up. The article was written about plans to turn the novel into a TV series and some of the difficulties that it faced along the way. This isn’t what I found interesting. What was most interesting for me was the simple description that the novel was a Science Fiction re-imagining of The Canterbury Tales. The story is told in a similar fashion; focusing on various characters stories as they complete a pilgrimage. Much like The Canterbury Tales, Hyperion is broken down into various characters tales which are identified by their profession (The Poet’s Tale, The Priest’s Tale, etc.). In a sense, both books are collections of short stories by characters linked together through their pilgrimage. In The Canterbury Tales it is a journey from London to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, while in Hyperion it is a pilgrimage to the planet Hyperion, to the Time Tombs, where they will meet the Shrike and be killed or given the answer to their lives greatest mystery. In Hyperion, each pilgrims story explains there mystery and what they hope to learn from the Shrike before the world ends with the opening of the Time Tombs. As strange as the plot synopsis sounds, I found it a diverse and fascinating read.

I would argue that what Dan Simmons does best is develop an incredibly diverse story. Often, when reading Science Fiction I find the world forced and unbelievable. I struggle to find a futuristic world that doesn’t sound made up. The Science Fiction greats benefit from worlds that are already well established in my mind, so any new series has their work cut out for them. Hyperion‘s early pages suffered from this, even though it is more of a flaw in myself. I’m happy that I pushed forward and dedicated the time this book. The world seems strange and made up at first glimpse, but it builds slowly and subtly. Two tales in and I found it as natural as any Science Fiction universe I know. The diversity of main characters and the diversity of their stories gave the universe an incredibly real feeling. Each character is unique and well developed, with their own lives, goals, and personalities and through them you can see the unity and diversity of their universe.

Hyperion is a Science Fiction novel first and foremost, but its diversity makes it so much more. Many people read militaristic adventure Sci-fi novels like Starship Troopers, others read more anthropological investigations like Speaker For The Dead, and still others look for Noir Sci-fi like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but what makes Hyperion such a masterpiece is its successful inclusion of all these sub-genres. Each characters tale shows their universe in a surprisingly unique atmosphere. Each one feels fresh and new, both in plot and style. Dan Simmons proved to be a much more talented author than I ever expected. I found each story to be engaging and interesting for very different reasons. I found each characters reasoning for seeking the Shrike compelling, but by the finish I found one characters quest to be far more necessary than the others. I won’t reveal the details of each, that is for the readersbut trust me when I say that this book has something for every type of Sci-fi fan.

The thing that I found most fascinating is the thing that ties the stories together. The Shrike. I found this being strange and incredibly intriguing. The Shrike is unforgiving, violent, terrifying and absolutely like no other creature I’ve ever found and literature. Learning more about the Shrike was alone, enough motivation to keep me reading. There is something devilish about him, both in his cult of worshipers and the title the give him, The Lord Of Pain. It appears in some form in each tale, and every time I felt it stole the show.

If you are a fan of Science Fiction, Hyperion is a must read. If you are hesitant but like a good short story collection, then again it’s a must read. I feel that though it might drag in parts for some readers, there is something for everyone to be found here. Hopefully its transition into a television show will help to push the story and the Shrike into public spotlight. I’d love to see the Shrike as a household name/monster. I hope this review inspires you to pick up Hyperion, it is a great book. Soon it will be seen everywhere as a Sci-fi classic, as it already is by many. I can’t wait to give book 2 The Fall of Hyperion a spin. Already I think of it as one of my favorite books ever, so I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars.

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