Fall of Hyperion: Review
First problem with Fall of Hyperion; the book struggles to get going.
When we last left Hyperion, the prior novel in this series, we were no doubt cursing that a 500 page, well-written and engaging book, couldn’t at the least find the word count to wrap up a single story or give us any payoff whatsoever. Nor did it wrap up even one of the sub-stories that were told during that book. Despite the work’s link to Chaucer’s great unfinished epic, The Canterbury Tales, Hyperion conversely felt a bit more like a contrived string along. While such crap is common in today’s realm of George R.R. Martin and Lost, for me of yar old school, such shenanigans are an abject pisser.
So it’s not at all good that Fall of Hyperion, the direct sequel, starts off weak right away. It denies us a straightforward continuation of our story and instead flip-flops through a new narrative about the larger Core/Human/Ouster conflict. While aspects of this story were introduced last book, they are expanded here and take much longer to get interesting.
In other words; Simmons loads on us a bunch of “new shit” that right away lets us know that we still have a long way to go to getting those answers he shrugged off at the end of the last book.
This tepid approach to the original story smacked to me of decompression. Typically such tactics in pacing are the kind of red flag indicators that a writer didn’t have a concrete plan to finish off his hooks as tightly as we may have imagined. Either that or he’s really just trying to squeeze two books out of a single story.
We are introduced to a new character Joe Severn, who is basically a trope-ish clone of a guy from the last book. Again, already dealing with clones or resurrected characters was a tough pill for me to swallow.
The book flips flops between these two storylines, and struggles in its pacing for say the first 150 pages. Truthfully, there was a point where I considered putting this thing down.
Thankfully, it gets better, and when the story does attempt to crank up and address some huge plot points with the original Shrike pilgrims, it works well and develops into the page turner I was expecting.
At his best, Simmons accomplishes two notable feats in this book;
- He builds attachment to the characters and solid-characterization. Especially Sol Weintraub and his story. Kassad’s tale was very well done for most of the book here, save for the end where his demise was somewhat herky jerky. Keep your Batman versus Superman crap, I really want to see Fedman Kassad versus the Shrike on film or TV.
- Dan Simmons really has a knack for solid prose, grammar and writing. He is a wordsmith whose flow is well placed and developed. I dig his sentences and use of vocabulary. His word usage is competent and elegant, not at all pretentious and gilded with arrogance. It’s a treat to read his lines, whatever the tale may be.
Then, unfortunately, once more the book turns soupy. Especially the final quarter of the book, where the narrative once again flip flops into plot driven tales of action versus longer metaphysical and religious discourses or diatribes by non-human characters. In other words; massive cross sections of syrupy fluff peppered with information dumps that give everything a rushed and confusing “kitchen sink” dynamic. After a while, that sink too seems to overflow.
By the time the Fairies and Lion-men start showing up, I was pretty well on the road to WTF?
There is a point as well where Simmons competent world of techno-babble , IE “Fatlines” “Farcasters” and “All Things” start to break down as well into something muddled that seems less like science and more akin to fantastic bullshit babble.
Ultimately, we have just too many things thrown against the wall, and although a solid amount sticks, questions and nonsensical portions of the narrative are just too much. The worse crime is that our antagonist, the great, perhaps even legendary, villain the Shrike, is a big letdown in the end, both in his performance and in his murky origin. (which I still don’t quite understand) As a result, an iconic villain ends up mostly demystified and castrated as the visceral machination of terror.
Frankly, I expected so much more.
There is a pay-off, however, albeit a tad of ten pounds of mumbo jumbo crammed of into a five pound bag. While I walked away with “enough” satisfaction, I would argue that many of the featured characters don’t exactly see their due and get sloughed off. Many seemingly important moments fizzle in the uncertainty of “what the hell happened?” or “That makes no sense!”.
Part of me feels that the whole of this series would have been much better as a single volume that played looser with the Canterbury Tales aspect and focused more in a tighter narrative with the characters and the Shrike and not expanded to be so epic and focused on that need to be a space opera.
Make no mistake; despite all this negativity, I did still enjoy the ride. At the end of the day, Simmons talent with words mostly keeps this story on course and makes it a worthy read. I believe this could have been a legendary tale, however, with a bit more work and plotting. I have more than few Dan Simmons books still on the shelf waiting to be read, and despite my faults with this series, I look forward to checking them out.