Worlds Enough & Time: Five Tales of Speculative Fiction

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 3 stars

I mostly enjoyed the stories in this collection. It pulls together five longer stories, more or less of novella length, along with introductions for each one. As I say, the stories are generally quite enjoyable, but the introductions are another matter. They seem to lack the discipline and editing that goes into the stories, feeling bloated and self-indulgent. The exception to this is the introduction to my favourite story in the collection, Orphans of the Helix, a story set in the universe of the Hyperion Cantos. Set some years after the end of Rise of Endymion, it was nice to return to that universe, following a group of colonists of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix, looking for a planet to settle well outside existing human space who encounter a distress signal en-route.

Of the other stories, I probably enjoyed On K2 with Kanakaredes the most, about a small group of mountain climbers who climb the world’s second-highest mountain with an alien, even if a lot of the actual mountain-climbing bits left me cold. I felt there was lots of context in The Ninth of Av that I wasn’t getting. It’s a story about the end of the world, as the post-humans get ready to put the remaining old-fashioned humans into suspended animation while they clean up the Earth. Or possibly it’s about genocide of the Jews. I think there were hints in the text, but possibly ones you need to be familiar with Judeo-Christian mythology to understand.

Looking for Kelly Dahl was interesting, about a suicidal former school teacher who has to track down one of his former pupils. And finally, The End of Gravity was possibly the least interesting to me. You know that cliché about Lit Fic being all about 50-something straight white writers who have affairs with young, pretty women? This felt sort of like that. The protagonist is an older straight white male writer, and there’s an attraction to a younger woman, and possibly some sort of metaphor involving the International Space Station that I didn’t really get. I think I found the protagonist too irritating to really pay that much attention to his internal monologue.

So a decent hit rate with stories that have a bit more room to breathe than your normal shorts. But I would mostly skip the introductions (although YMMV, as always).

Book details

ISBN: 9780060506049
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 2002

The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4)

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 4 stars

Concluding the Hyperion cantos is a tricky job, drawing many threads together and providing some closure, and Simmons mostly does a good job. We pick up five years after Raul Endymion and Aenea found themselves on Old Earth, just as they have to leave. This time Raul is sent out alone to go and look for the Counsel’s ship, that they left on a planet somewhere along the River Tethys while Aenea goes on her own adventures. We follow Raul on his travels, hiding from the Pax and his eventual reunion with Aenea. A neat trick with relativity means that another five years or so have passed for him before the reunion, making her in her early twenties before the relationship foretold in the previous book happens, and so making the whole thing somewhat less creepy.

There are several points in the book where Aenea, now in full One Who Teaches mode, stops to provide several pages of exposition. This slows the book down a lot and it feels clunky to hear someone ask “Tell us about the Farcasters”, or whatever, and have an infodump thrown at the reader. I wish that a better way could have been found to handle that.

It’s also sometimes tricky to keep various versions of a story in my head at once. “So the Cantos said this about it, the Core says that, and now Aenea is saying the other.” Trying to remember all the different versions so that I could reconcile them in my head was sometimes tricky.

The Core comes out of this as the real villains, along with certain individuals in the Church who can’t see beyond their own greed. I’m left feeling almost sorry for Lenar Hoyt, now the Pope, who seems like a very weak character, who is entirely led by other people, and by the Core. It feels like a weakness that the final resolution seems to pretty much leave the Core out entirely. We never find out what happens to it, but I suppose there have to be some mysteries left over. And speaking of mysteries, the Shrike retains some of its mystery. We find out more about it, but the core (to me) item of why it was created and why it changed sides in the last book are still not clear.

Also, something that bugged me from early on was the revelation that Father Duré from the first books was still “alive”, in that he and Hoyt shared a body and each time Hoyt died and Duré was resurrected, he was killed by the Church to allow Hoyt to return. But Duré’s cruciform was cut from him by the Shrike in Fall of Hyperion, while in the Labyrinth (I flipped through the book to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, and I wasn’t). Since it’s never explained, I guess this is just a plot hole, but I would have thought that any beta-readers would have picked up on it (either that, or I missed something pretty important).

Definitely better than its predecessor, but perhaps not quite matching the first two books of the cantos, it’s worth reading to finish the story. Oh, and if I ever write a sequel to my blog post on big dumb objects, the Startree is definitely going on the list.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553572988
Publisher: Spectra
Year of publication: 1997

Endymion (Hyperion, #3)

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 3 stars

Picking up the story a couple of hundred years after the end of Fall of Hyperion, this book immediately cuts through the hope that the previous book ended with. A new Pax, enforced by a resurgent Catholic church that has embraced the immortality granted by the cruciform parasite, has spread across the worlds of the old Hegemony, and any hope for unity with the Ousters against the machinations of the TechnoCore was soon shattered, as the Pax continues a war against it. Our protagonist is a young man, Raul Endymion, sentenced to death, who awakes after his execution, in the home of the old poet Martin Silenus. Silenus charges Raul to go to the Time Tombs, get past the elite warriors of the Pax, retrieve the girl who will step out of the Sphinx and flee with her to the stars, to let her develop into the Messiah, The One Who Teaches.

The book is structured effectively as a travelogue, with Raul and the girl (Aenea), along with the android, A. Bettik, who accompanies them, travelling the worlds of the former Web looking for something, something that Aenea will recognise only when she sees it; all the while being pursued by agents of the Church.

For those, like myself, who had forgotten all but the broad brush strokes from the previous two books, there is a handy plot device in the form of a (forbidden, of course) poem, written by Silenus, that Raul has handily read and memorised, which summarises the entire first two books. So when we need to be reminded of something, a character will conveniently pipe up, saying that it was in the Cantos and provide a summary. Some people might find it a slightly clumsy device, but it’s definitely useful.

The Church doesn’t come out of the book well, especially Father Lenar Hoyt from the first book. It’s shown as reactionary and intolerant of any deviations from its own point of view, so the Ousters, and their worldview of adapting themselves to space, rather than the other way around, are seen as heretical. It also bans literature (such as Silenus’ Cantos) which has a different historical perspective than officially sanctioned history. It’s not really a surprise when we discover that Hoyt, now Pope Julius, and who has been for several hundred years, through the immortality of the cruciform, has become a tool of the TechnoCore, who are using him, and the Church, for their own ends, to try and capture and kill Aenea.

I don’t know if Simmons had children at the point that he wrote this novel, but the character of Aenea really doesn’t read like a child. She’s supposed to be eleven years old at this point, and even for a future messiah, she sounds too adult to me. And the relationship between her and Raul is slightly disturbing as well. Aenea’s dreams of the future tell us that they will become lovers at some point, which might be eyebrow-raising, but (just about) acceptable in a decade, but now mentions of that just feel icky.

The Shrike also makes appearances in this novel, and from very early on I made the comparison in my head with the T800 between The Terminator and Terminator 2. While it is never exactly friendly, it does now protect Aenea rather than try and kill everything indiscriminately. There’s no equivalent of the prologue to T2 to explain the change in its behaviour though (although I’m hoping that the final book in the Cantos might explain that).

So a decent addition to the Hyperion Cantos, but not as good as the original two books. I’ll still definitely read the final book in the series to finish the story.

Book details

ISBN: 9780747238263
Publisher: Feature
Year of publication: 1996

The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #2)

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 4 stars

The Fall of Hyperion picks up pretty much from where Hyperion left off. We open with a young man going under the name of Joseph Severn being invited to a major party on the governing world of Tau Ceti Centre, to celebrate the departure of the fleet that will take back the world of Hyperion from the Ousters. We see much of the novel through Severn’s eyes, and through them, we also find out what happened to the pilgrims of the original novel.

The scope of this book is absolutely huge. It spans time and space, it covers the rise and potential fall of gods and still has time to deal with the minutiae of human life, and this makes it extremely an compelling read. For me, it really put the ‘opera’ into ‘space opera’. It has the huge scope and wide brush strokes that I associate with classical opera, and also, to be honest, has that thing where the plot doesn’t entirely makes sense but you get so swept up in it that you hardly notice. It also has a mixture of a huge sense of loss combined with a great change that changes everything. Whether for better or worse, is left in the air.

So a compelling book, with satisfying conclusions to the stories of most of the pilgrims, especially Sol Weintraub and his daughter, Rachel and one that expands the scope of the story in a satisfying way.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575099487
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1990

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1)

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 4 stars

The idea of the Canterbury Tales in space always sounded like a good one, and it’s been well executed here. Seven pilgrims are making a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion and as they travel, they tell each other their tales of their previous connection to Hyperion and what they’re looking for. This acts as a framing narrative around a number of other stories and it works really well. It wasn’t until about the third tale that I realised that as well as being different genres, each of them had their own voice that was completely distinct from the ones around it. It takes real skill to achieve that, and still form a cohesive whole around it.

The tales themselves are all engaging, some more emotionally hard-hitting than the others with the Scholar’s tale being the stand-out. In some ways it feels of its time, in its descriptions of women being very physical, all breasts and curves, which feels a little off, reading it in the 21st century but that can be overlooked in favour of the solid and very intriguing story being told. Each tale sheds light on the ones that came before it, and provides groundwork for the ones to come, so that by the end, your understanding of the Hegemony, the “angel of pain”, the Shrike, and the threat faced has radically changed.

So a great book, and I’m definitely going to have to pick up the sequel, to find out how the story ends – this isn’t a complete narrative in its own right: it ends as the pilgrims reach their destination, with doom hanging in the air. And after a serious and portentous book, I loved the incongruous closing paragraphs where the pilgrims join arms and make their way to the Time Tombs all singing the theme tune to The Wizard of Oz. It’s so bizarre yet it works – it lightens the mood without dispelling the atmosphere that Simmons has so carefully built up. Genius.

Book details

ISBN: 9781407234663
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1989

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