"If you live in Australia and all your friends have gone off somewhere, they're here." -- Some Drunk Guy

First of all, before I get the proverbial slipper thrown at me by all you dead-eye noders, let me just say that I am well aware of the Mount Olympus in Greece AND on Mars (and their respective spellings).

This, however, is a small region in Antalya, Turkey, which, although deriving its name from the mountain at the foot of which it lays, is nonetheless referring to the super-cool holiday spot. Yes, the mountain is reputed, once again, to have been the love shack of shamelessly extravagant gods. But who cares.

The Olympos that the Beat 'n' Bohemian youth have come to love and cherish and reminisce about when slaving away at their keyboards during their day jobs is a preserved valley just West of the Antalya city centre, cosily situated between the vastly popular regions of Kemer and Kas (Kash).

Olympos was apparently one of the major cities of the Lycia region and is thought to date back in its origins to 300 BC. Its initial appearance on the timeline of history is 78 BC, around which time it was occupied by a Roman Governor, Servilius Vatia, who wrestled it away from a malicious pirate by the name of Zenicetes. Vestiges of historical information tell us that Zenicetes and his pirate posse held some serious sacrificial shindigs in this valley. Their motivation as such was to pay their respects to the Persian god of pure spirit, Mithras.

Later centuries saw a diocese gaining control of the region before some more pirates came back, got kicked out by the Knights of Rhodes and, finally, Ottomans got full control around the 15th century.

Alas, it's ours...

I did quite a bit of research about the place, having picked it as my first holiday spot in 3 years. It was featured in Lonely Planet, which awarded some distinguished prize or other to the most famous hostel in the region, Kadir's Treehouses. This, I'm told, was the place to be a few years ago if you were considering a seamless stay in Olympos. Sadly, and as most regulars agree, Kadir has turned what is the shining example for all other hostels in the valley into a bit of a money-maker. But there'll be more about that later.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Olympos if you're from outside of Turkey is to aim your airliner at Antalya, Turkey. Once off the plane you'll want to head for the local bus terminal where you can catch a minibus to Olympos. You won't have much trouble getting hold of one as a few companies provide the service at different times within the hour. A slightly long drive lasting about an hour and a half will take you through the road winding up and down the hem of the Taurus mountains. I suggest you tell the driver where you want to get off. But for the sake of being factual, you'll arrive in Cirali, the general area where Olympos is, about 40 minutes after passing Kemer. You'll pull up in front of a quaint café just overlooking the mind-boggling precipice of the valley. Get refreshed and wait for what I like to call the dropship to take you down into the valley. Ok, it's basically another minibus.

A 10 to 15 minute ride down a winding road gives way to some beautiful scenery. As the valley unfurls you nod to yourself thinking "awright!".

When the incline fades away you will catch your first glimpse of Kadir's Treehouses. It gives you that wonderful familiar feeling you get when you go somewhere for real after you've seen the place countless times in photographs. The treehouses look more like a themepark attraction rather than, well, structures built out of necessity.

It's worth noting at this point that Olympos is both a historic and natural reservation, the element of the former being the Old City and the latter being those cute Caretta's who lay their eggs on the beach.

Once past Kadir's, the path stretches all the way to the beach for a couple of kilometers. This gravel path is lined on both sides by hostels and bars. Cars are allowed in, but I suggest you forget about seeing any concrete five-stars with air-conditioning and room service. The whole place is woodwork.

Where To Stay

The hostels don't differ much in price, so don't worry about being ripped off. This place knows how to treat tourists. The makeup of the hostels is quite similar, as well, with the open-air bars, receptions, treehouses and dining areas at the forefront, and the cabins and bungalows lined up all the way back toward the mountain.

Places you should look into are (breakfast and dinner included):

  • Turkmen Pension
  • Bayram's Pension
  • Orange Pension
  • Camlik Pension

I have no idea why they call them pensions when armies of blonde and blue-eyed backpackers would so much better identify with "hostel".

A bungalow is pretty hard to find and I doubt you will be bestowed the keys to one if you have not booked well in advance. Almost everyone stays in a cabin and they are pretty easy to come by, provided that you arrive around noon when people are checking out and vacancies become available. If, however, you come up empty, consider the adventurous option of laying down your load in a treehouse. Drawbacks? Chickens may lay eggs on your matress while you're working on that tan at the beach, plus the embarrassment of having to descend the wooden ladder or staircase amidst a hundred people having breakfast in the morning.

Cabins are slightly more comfortable in that the breakfast people are gone. And that's it. A couple of beds, an electricity outlet and a light bulb is all you get in a space of two square meters. Don't even think about sleeping late as you will wake up with all your bodily fluids on the outside. The sun in Antalya is a scorcher and the cabins can get very hot during mid-day.

Please keep in mind that, with the exception of bungalows, locks are not very common. You can entrust any valuables you may have to the staff at reception. Our only comfort with regard to a possible trespass was that no one in their right mind would travel all the way down to a place time forgot to snitch my Calvin Klein's. And they didn't.

Stuff

Once you get settled in you will find that the keyword is relaxation. You can sit at the bar or huddle around a picnic table, stretch out on a platform among the cushions and just doze.

The beach is a couple of kilometers down the main path. Fret not, though, because the lengthy walk is quite exhilirating. People all around are either making their way to or from the beach. Here and there you will see a henna-tattoo artist, someone selling handmade jewellery, and the hallmark of all holiday spots, some parents smacking their kid around.

The ruins of the old city poke out from under the ground so take some sturdy footwear along. As you approach the end of the line of shops and hostels you will have to pay a small fee to get to the old city and the beach. Keep the receipt and you can get in free the next time.

Further on you'll come across a pleasant surprise. A fresh water stream which makes its way down the side of the mountain and flows all the way to the beach where it spills into the sea. I overheard some German guy say he had been drinking the water from that stream for 8 days, so you might want to consider refilling your plastic bottles, especially since there are no other shops between you and the beach from then on. Beware the water's temperature, though. It'll have your balls receding all the way back to your cabin. My travel companion sustained a tail slap from some trout-like fish while snorkeling down there, so it's not devoid of life either. The stream crosses your path to the beach at a couple of points so prepare for a balancing act on the stepping stones if you don't want to get your sandals wet.

Speaking personally, the old city really didn't tickle my fancy. It's hardly the Parthenon and looks like it's been put together recently by the locals. There's also a couple of tombs as you near the beach if you're into that sort of thing. I apologize for my ignorance.

Finally, the beach. "Where dirt meets water", said Bill Hicks. I am rather less contemptuous of the lovely Mediterranean, however, and felt my heart quicken at the sight of the big blue.

The beach is a long gulf spanning the area between Olympos and Cirali, where begins the luxurious hotels and whatnot. Don't go that way if you want to remain my friend. It downright interferes with the sweet getting-to-know-you phase between yourself and this beautiful locale. Stay hippie, stay loose, and don't read any newspapers while you're there.

The hostels serve dinner between 20:00-20:30. You may choke on your Margarita when you see just how many people line up to be served. Not knowing this, I can now sweetly reminisce about when we had to eat our meal on the ping-pong table. Mark your table early with a book or something.

Creatures of the Night! Over here!

Funnily enough, the nightlife is quite a humdinger. What the valley has to offer during the night more than makes up for the lack of activity during the day. There's live music at a couple of the hostels; the Orange Disco, the lit path to which you traverse around a mountain and don't believe exists till you've reached it, and, of course, The Bull Bar at Kadir's.

When I first set foot into the Bull Bar I thought I'd finally found the elusive city of Eldorado. An open-air dance club made of wood with a huge fire going in the middle. Half-nude vixens and barmaids in Bikinis. Some people said that I threw myself face first on the floor to express my gratitude to the Great One. But people will say anything.

As an alternative to these nightspots, people usually trot off to the mountains and smoke weed in the caverns. We had trouble finding any benevolent junkies who would let us help ourselves to their stash, but who'd want to play Spot-Former-Presidents-In-The-Sky when there's just the two of you anyway.

If you're pissed enough on booze and chronically dissatisfied with your life back home, you'll invariably have a desperate desire to see the Mediterranean at 3 o'clock in the morning. Take the above-mentioned path to the beach once more. If you don't have a flashlight handy, you're probably not coming back. So get one. Watch the sun rise over the Mediterranean and return to your hostel and nod off.

Then get up and do it all over again!

*{Spoiler Warning!} A warning to all who read this, if you have any intention of reading this book and have not yet read Ilium, go no further. It will contain spoilers pertaining to the last book, though for this book there are none in this review. Further warning: The excellent review below by Timeshredder contains spoilers for Olympos, so read futher if you don't mind them.

Olympos

by Dan Simmons

Eos, 690 pgs(Hardback)

ISBN:0-380-97894-6

Setting and Dramatis Personae

Eight months have past since the events in Ilium happened, Prospero's Isle reddened the sky of Earth with its streaking debris, Hockenberry's orchestrated war with the Olympian Gods has continued under the protective force fields of Moravec technology. Humans across the solar system and time itself are struggling to survive against gods and monsters. Harman, Ada, and Daemon of Earth have built a fort to stand against the now murderous voynix. Achilles and Hector fight glorious aristeia with the Gods themselves on the red Martian plains at the foot of Olympus Mons.

At this point in the story these two threads have yet to converge. It is in this conclusive book that they do.

Review

Simmons has a way of writing long epic books, so long that he breaks them into dualogies. He does this by creating multiple storylines that make sense only in their context which can only be fully explained in the second book. In so doing he creates a heap of suspense by keeping the explanations for all the incredible things that are going on.

Having read Ilium and desperately wanted to know how everything turns out, I jumped at Olympos as soon as I had access to it. Reading Ilium one sees a universe that has a great deal of unfathomable history, the reader has to say "I don't see how this could possibly occur." This is because Simmons has devised an ingenious way to take all of the gimmicks and plot devices he uses and hide them neatly and comfortably out of the way. Reading Olympos, I was not so nonplused by the unknowable gimmick, I was enjoying the ride and hoping that it would be revealed but attempting to look cool and appear aloof. And then it was there in front of me, utterly absurd but there and waiting for my mouth to hoist itself back up. And the characters in the book see the gimmick, see the entire plot and are themselves alarmed at the absurdity, which removed a lot of the sting from the blow. I warn others, this book will jerk you around.

A plus for those who disliked the Proustian dialectic conversations, they have not reappeared in this book and they have been put into context, which is even better in my opinion.

Conclusion

A wonderful ending to an epic story, an homage to the epic as a narrative form of writing and especially to Homer's Iliad. It brings to a close stories that finally make sense when held together in this thick tome. If you like wonderful plot arcs, orbits even, intelligent and witty writing and really good story lines(and have read Ilium) this is the book for you. If you haven't read Ilium, you shouldn't have read this node, for shame, that said and if the above also applies to you, this is the dualogy you've been looking for. And if you really want proof that Simmons has read a buttload of classic novels, you'll like this book.

"Rage--Sing, Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles, murderous, doomed, sing of the rage that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling into Hades' Dark House so many sturdy souls, great fighters' souls, heroes' souls, but also made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds, even as Zeus's will was done. Begin, O Muse, when the two first argued and clashed, the Greek king Agamemnon, lord of men, and the brilliant, godlike Achilles..."-Homer, Tran.s Orphu of Io

Dan SimmonsOlympos completes the story started in Ilium. It should not be read as a sequel; each novel tells half of the same tale.

The Novel

Warning: Spoilers

It’s a complicated tale, but Simmons has fun with the telling. Posthuman flakes modified to become Greek gods oversee a Trojan War that has gone hopelessly awry. A Lovecraftian alien, meanwhile (strictly speaking, an alien inspired by Browning’s reflections on Shakespeare in "Caliban Upon Setebos" as filtered through Lovecraft), characters from The Tempest, and some leftover self-directed weapons battle with the remnants of humanity back on earth. All of this threatens the fabric of universe. The moravecs—-sentient constructions1 who dwell on the moons of Jupiter-- aided by a reconstructed professor from our era, a comatose woman from a war-torn time, and some heroes from classical mythology, decide they must set things right.

I applaud Simmons to the very echo for constructing a coherent and highly readable novel from these elements. He has produced a bizarre world, filled with mysteries and terror. Ilium frustrated many readers because it explained so little about its strange reality. Olympos leaves some minor matters open, but it clears most of the confusion. The mysteries and plot twists of Ilium and Olympos develop from millennia of imaginary history, of future cultural and scientific developments that have reshaped the world and humanity. Simmons manages to track more speculative elements than some SF writers conceive of in a lifetime.

Along the way, he recapitulates the history of SF conventions and plays with the characters and ideas from some great works of western literature. Play is the correct word; at one point, an angry and oversized Zeus strides across a battlefield, and it's not difficult to imagine a child crossing a yard where plastic toys wage war. Simmons, the author, has fun with a number of characters and conceits, original and borrowed, and ambitious readers will find much to enjoy in these books. You are advised to read the two novels together, however. It also wouldn’t hurt to have read some Classical mythology, the works of William Shakespeare, and have some passing familiarity with quantum physics.

Numerous other references riddle this story, but the aforementioned strike me as the most important. Some readers might prefer fewer specifically fannish allusions, but he keeps these relatively unobtrusive. Nothing in Olympos sinks quite so low as the moment in Ilium the moravec Orphu reveals his hitherto undisclosed familiarity with 1950s sci-fi films in order to justify an unnecessary bad joke.

We see less of the moravecs in this second half, though they remain important. They're less interesting in this novel; although they grow closer to humanity, they don't really develop as characters. More character development occurs with the old-style humans, who must cope with the loss of their comfortable, shallow existence. They gain a nobility in this second book, and I found myself interested in the fate of the closest this novel has to human heroes, Harman and Ada. I could sympathize with their struggles, though I did not find most of the humans themselves overly likeable.

Simmons does more, conceptually, with the famous characters he has appropriated. Granted some, such as Sebetos and even Caliban, function more as creepy plot devices than actual characters. Others he develops in interesting and often ironic ways, which yet remain true to the source material. The Classical gods often behave like children in the original mythos; we see a good deal more of this behaviour here, but in a context very different from Homer or Hesiod's. Simmons' gods are modified humans, and the pettiest of human motivations continue to drive them. They have access to great power but little wisdom, and they see humans as little more than chess pieces. The Greeks and Trojans often prove no better than the deities they (initially) serve. Helen can be both treacherous and yielding. Achilles shows us the noble and the dark sides of heroism; he is in turns courageous, bloodthirsty, and compulsive. His obsession with Penthesilea, brought about by a pheromone-laden elixir, turns him into a parody of a kind of lover celebrated by romantic epics. Most of us have felt that exaggerated passion, and know how short-lived and personally disastrous it can be.

Olympos features a handful of sexual encounters, which Simmons generally handles effectively. The drive-in apocalyptic make-out scene which occurs towards the end of the book proves both evocative and funny. However, the Olympian coupling between Zeus and Hera, rendered with decidedly purple prose, falls flat, even as parody.

I enjoyed reading Simmons. The story that entertains but lacks explanation in Ilium resolves nicely in this second volume. I liked the society established in the final chapters; it would be a good place to live. Still, given how much his characters suffer, it seems a very easy conclusion.

The Cranky Campus Critic

This novel is for Harold Bloom who—- in his refusal to collaborate in this Age of Resentment—- has given me great pleasure.
--dedication, Olympos

Simmons has written a far-ranging SF adventure, but along the way he (irony aside) unabashedly celebrates western literature and culture. His future society, when it works for the best, borrows more than a little from western civilization. While he references popular culture and various kinds of science fiction, he fills his novel with characters and ideas from the traditional canon of western literature. I take no exception; Olympos is his book and he argues persuasively for the importance of knowing the history and cultures that have shaped one’s society. (At the same time, he suggests that we must kill our gods, but this idea has loomed large in the western mind since the Enlightenment)

He dedicates Olympos to Harold Bloom, best known to the general public as a champion of aesthetics in literature, and an opponent of narrowly politicized literary criticism. One wonders, however, about Simmons’ own political angle in his novel and, in the interest of provoking discussion-- and in the spirit of Simmons' often ironic work--, I examine some possible readings of this text.

Another Bloom—-Allan—-, a man also rather fond of the western literary tradition, argues that contemporary western civilization may be the first to breed its own barbarians. Neither Dan Simmons nor Harold Bloom quite share Allan Bloom’s extreme conservatism, but in Ilium’s hedonistic, post-literate old-style humans, lost in parties, culturally clueless, amd finally forced in Olympos to understand their own humanity, one sees a satiric portrait of contemporary culture, especially youth culture.

Tolerance and multiculturalism? Simmons makes heroes of the otherworldly moravecs, but they share the same literary and cultural fascinations as their human designers. Two of the greatest, most insidious threats stalking the future earth (and one significant past threat) are the creation of an Islamic dictatorship, and I suspect someone will read this as a nod to those conservatives who consider Islam the greatest threat to western civilization (beyond those keg-toting, post-literate barbarians, of course). I think I would tread carefully here; both the Sword of Allah and the Voynix had to be created by extremists of the sort religion can breed. In any case, Simmons spreads the responsibility for the world's circumstances on the short-sightedness of many different cultures-- though the Islamist contributions do seem conspicuous.

Feminism? Some traditionalists have viewed it as the enemy, and this novel does feature a disastrous, incompetent uprising by several women during the Trojan War. Their motives make a kind of sense, however, and any uprising by untrained, poorly armed citizens would lose as disastrously to battle-hardened soldiers. Anyone suggesting this incident is misogynistic would surely be missing the broad context of Olympos, which features many strong female characters.

Something there may be to these hypothetical readings. However, Simmons’ novel should not be read as a novel-with-a-thesis, and certainly not as allegory. He has produced a work that plays with familiar ideas, and it relates a remarkable, thought-provoking tale.

1.The true nature of the moravecs remains unclear. They contain both biological and mechanical elements. Hans Moravec, for whom they are named, has discussed the advantages of human cyborgs, suggesting that these are significantly modified humans. However, they also speak of humans as their creators, suggesting they may be something more akin to androids.

Portions of this review appeared first in one I wrote for Bureau42.

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