The Fall of Hyperion (1990) is the second instalment in Dan Simmons’ epic science fiction series, the Hyperion Cantos. The first, Hyperion (1989), is a glorious cacophony of ideas structured as a sci-fi Canterbury Tales-style pilgrimage, following seven men and women (and one newborn) on their Chaucerian voyage to the Time Tombs on the eponymous planet.
But the first book ends with no resolution. None. Our pilgrims arrive at their destination – the temple complex of the murderous Shrike monster – with each character’s motivations achingly clear, but alas, utterly unfulfilled.
Usually, that kind of cliff-hanger modus operandi would leave me somewhat perturbed. Yes, I enjoyed the journey, but the destination – understanding what the hell is going on – was infuriatingly elusive. What are the Time Tombs? What does the Shrike want? How can they possibly stop such an entity?
But it was such an exciting journey. Expertly crafted, each of the pilgrims had told a tale of how they came to be on their collective voyage, with each story adopting a distinct thematic tone, whether it be cyberpunk thriller in the detective’s tale, or gothic horror in the priest’s.
It oozed style, but its substance kept apace. Its themes of explosive human propagation across the galaxy creating grave ecological imbalances is as topical today as it was in 1989; the concept of a seemingly subservient – albeit ominously transcendent – artificial intelligence is as effervescent in today’s science fiction as it was a quarter-century ago; while the exponential integration of technology with the flesh continues to delight and appal in equal measure.
God in the machine
But in The Fall of Hyperion, we discover the essence of the epic, previously hinted at but only now explicit: the evolution of God.
What a wonderfully complex concept that is – that mankind evolves into its own ultimate intelligence. That the human race is both creator and created.
Not to give too much away, but this book is about creation, about beings transcending their creator, about gods being born and finding their place in space and time.
That’s the kind of mind-bending scope that science fiction can harbour. It’s yet another reason to love the genre, beyond escapism, beyond fanciful dreams, beyond even extrapolated social conundrums.
Fire of creation
Science fiction has been dealing with the death of God since its birth, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. With science, we have been given the tools to become the creator, while simultaneously snuffing our belief in the celestial. And the fear that this imbues – the abrupt absence of God or gods – is evident in vast swathes of the genre.
I’d recommend Hyperion only to ardent sci-fi fans (to whom I would recommend it fervently), because it is so awash with ideas as to potentially muddle those less open to the form – it has a flying carpet in it for heaven’s sake. And a spaceship made out of a gargantuan tree.
But The Fall of Hyperion is arguably the more satisfying read. All the convoluted events from the first novel, all the fantastical machinations, they all become relevant, all essential. It is incredibly gratifying to finally fathom the unfathomable. To place each piece into the puzzle and build brilliance from bewilderment.
Even Bradley Cooper agrees.
…although, calling himself “not much of a writer” does not bode well for the screen adaptation.