While the first book, Hyperion, can be considered as a thrilling collection of short stories, this book feels contrived and boring, written without much attention to style. And while the world building in the first book was definitely interesting, nothing much is added here.
Almost none of the characters have real development. In the first book, this wasn’t really a problem, since it were just short stories in a larger frame, but in this book, things get an even more shallow & caricatural vibe. Yet a drunken poet, or a tormented priest – a Jesuit, of course! – that ponders the decline of his religion aren’t that interesting for plot building. (On a sidenote, Dune had the Orange Catholic Bible and Zensufism, Hyperion has Zen Catholicism. Homage, or theft?)
Even more problematic than lacking character development, is that things are repeated & explained ad nauseam. Even after more than 100 pages in the book, stuff from the first book is repeated unnecessarily, adding nothing. A sentence like “Gladstone thought about Sol Weintraub and his wife Sarai and their beautiful twenty-six-year-old-daughter, returning from a year of archeological discovery on Hyperion with no discovery except the Shrike’s curse, the Merlin sickness.” is exemplary. There’s nothing new in this sentence – which wouldn’t have been a problem if it would have been well written, or contained nice imagery, or a worthwhile thought, etc. Yet with “beautiful” all we get is a vapid adjective.
The book also suffers from pseudo-philosophical insights and a heavy-handed poetic theme. I majored in poetry, but the entire John Keats things feels forced, and again, adds nothing to the dynamic of the story itself. It feels like a whim of the author, taking up too much page time. This sentence from the epilogue illustrates the problem perfectly:
I learned that poets aren’t God, but if there is a god … or anything approaching a God … he’s a poet. And a failed one at that.
Simmons tries to be a philosopher, but miserably fails at it: all we get is bland and broken aphorisms.
Certain parts of the plot are unbelievable, or just don’t add up, like when a main character dreams what other characters are experiencing light years away. It does get some quick justification involving an AI core and stuff, but it actually boils down to magic. Not hard SF for sure.
How this tedious book won the Locus and the BSFA and ends up in all kinds of lists is beyond me. Sure, there are interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout, and it does have some highly imaginative SF ideas, but it lacked overall tension and suffered big time from all the problems listed above.
A journalist of the Washington Post wrote “Matches and perhaps even surpasses Isaac Asimov”, and someone of the NYT wrote “bears comparison with Foundation and Dune”. The publishing company didn’t hesitate to put such high praise on the back cover. All things considered, they are insults to both Dune and Asimov’s Foundation.
originally written on the 10th of October, 2014