Friday, May 28, 2010
Sometimes, these attitudes lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. I enjoyed reading this book the first time, but it was almost despite my own self. The structure was very different from that of the preceding novel, with a whole host of new characters and little sustained focus on the original pilgrims to the Time Tombs and the Shrike. I was not prepared for this or for how Simmons concluded this novel, so I dismissed it at the time as being enjoyable, but a letdown compared to the story that I thought I wanted to read after Hyperion.
However, there are occasions where a re-read can rehabilitate a book's image in the mind of its reader. False expectations being stripped away, the reader can be free to examine the book on its own merits and perhaps to discover narrative gems that were invisible during the first read. This certainly was the case with The Fall of Hyperion, which I found to be a much more absorbing read the second time around, six years after reading it for the first time.
As I noted above, the narrative structure is much different for this sequel. There are no Chaucer or Boccaccio-like framing stories to dominate the narrative. Instead, Simmons broadens the story out beyond the six remaining pilgrims to cover the Hegemony leadership and the looming battle with the Ousters, those modified humans who have resisted Hegemony control for the four centuries since the Hegira from Earth following an apparent "accident" that created a mini-black hole that consumed that planet. Beside the Hegemony leader, Meina Gladstone (a name teeming with historical allusions), is a second cybrid replica of the Romantic poet John Keats, this time going by the name of Severn, named after the companion of Keats during his fatal pilgrimage to Rome in 1821. Severn has a strange sort of dream-like connection to the pilgrims and his narrative roles revolve around him as being a sort of mediator between humans and the TechnoCore, as well as mediating between the experiences of those living and the poetry born of human travails. In this, Severn is perhaps a complement to the role that Martin Silenus played in the first novel.
A problem that I had during my first reading of the novel is that Simmons seemed to jump around too much with his chapters and scene switches. Perhaps the intent was to create a sense of chaos surrounding the events unfolding on Hyperion, but at times (and this was especially true for the first half of the novel), things just felt a bit too disjointed. However, once Severn embarks upon a fatal reenactment of Keats' Roman pilgrimage, things begin to click into place and events make much more sense.
If in the first novel Simmons used a variety of storytelling styles to set up some emotional payoffs, here in The Fall of Hyperion these climaxes mostly fulfill the promise of their set-ups, albeit in some surprising ways. The fate of the young priest Hoyt is fitting and yet open-ended enough to set the stage for the next two books in the sequence. Martin Silenus, however, seemed to be more of a third wheel than a vital part of this particular storyline, although he had his moments. Kassad and Sol's stories, however, prove to be central to this story and I found upon re-reading them that Simmons did a good job foreshadowing what was going to occur with both of these central threads, providing logical conclusions and leaving some speculation for the future. The Brawne Lamia and Consul subplots were a bit disjointed in places and while their story arcs in this novel largely made sense, there were times where it seemed to take a bit too long for the action to unfold.
However, on the whole, things did work out well, with conclusions that left much for me to ponder about human initiative and the dangers involved when that is abdicated for leisure activities, about how jealous and petty humans can be toward those perceived to be "other" than them, and even a little bit about matters of faith. Those readers expecting every thread to be tied off here will be disappointed, as Simmons left just enough threads open for the two-part Endymion subseries to explore. But for what was concluded, The Fall of Hyperion provided good, thought-provoking entertainment that made me glad that I chose to re-read this powerful SF series.