Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Bantam Spectra, 1989.
Paperback, 482 pages.

An odd admixture of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and John KeatsHyperion with a science fiction twist, Hyperion is Dan Simmons’ Hugo Award-winning novel, published by Bantam Spectra in 1989. It is the first of four books in the Cantos series, and is followed by (in order of release) The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion.

Written in the same “frame story” format as the Canterbury Tales, Hyperion chronicles the journey of seven people on a pilgrimage to Hyperion to make a request of a mysterious entity known as the Shrike, a Lord of Pain who is both bound by time and free of it, a journey that claims the lives of most who make it. They agree to share the stories that brought each of them through space to Hyperion, both in order to alleviate boredom during the long trip and to get to know each other better, in hopes that they will find some way to survive where others died. While comparing notes, the pilgrims find that each of them has in some way had past experience with the world of Hyperion.

During all of this, the Ousters, an offshoot of humanity, are sending an armada to take Hyperion for their own ends, causing the human pan-galactic government, the Hegemony, to evacuate the planet and send a fleet of their own to defend it.

And hanging over the heads of everyone is the knowledge that the Shrike is roaming the grassy plains and abandoned cities, every day gaining a little more freedom from whatever forces bind it to Hyperion’s mysterious Time Tombs; a knowledge that at any time, the Shrike might claim one of them as a sacrifice

… and so Dan Simmons begins to weave the webs of Hyperion’s plot into a beautifully crafted epic. The seven main characters, the pilgrims, each share their stories in an order determined by drawn straws, and we learn a bit more about each of them as the book progresses, aided by Dan Simmons’ writing; his writing style changes for each of the characters, reflecting their own personal styles and personalities.. These memorable individuals include:

  • Martin Silenus, the foul-mouthed priapic poet with satyriasis from Old Earth who is hoping that the trip will rouse his dormant muse as he attempts to complete his Cantos (the nature of which is oddly similar to John Keats’ own unfinished Hyperion).
  • Sol Weintraub, the Jewish scholar whose daughter’s life is in danger of ending due to a heretofore unheard-of disease, and who is making the pilgrimage to ask the Shrike to spare her as a last resort.
  • Lenar Hoyt, a Jesuit priest who is following the trail of another priest who went missing on Hyperion some years ago.
  • Fedmahn Kassad, a decorated military commander who is making the pilgrimage to the Shrike for his own undisclosed reasons.
  • Het Masteen, a Templar and Voice of the Tree who is along for the ride to fulfill the prime-number-only pilgrimage requirement.
  • Brawne Lamia, a private detective who is traveling to Hyperion at the behest of a client.
  • The alcoholic and insomniac Hegemony Consul, who, in his own way, is just as mysterious as Kassad.

If you enjoy an epic science fiction story with a strong plot and solid roots in classic literature, you will probably enjoy Hyperion. If you enjoy engaging characters with strong senses of identity, you will probably enjoy Hyperion. And if you are looking for a convoluted plotline with new twists and developments right up until the very end… you will probably enjoy Hyperion.

A sampling of other works by Dan Simmons:

This writeup was written for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.