After putting down Hyperion having finished it I was struck by how much it had managed to engross me. In its way, this is unsurprising; it took me five days to get through and after investing some ten hours in reading it I'd expect that for my money.
But what is surprising is how connected I felt with the central cast of characters.
Here we need some context. The galaxy is under threat. The human race is under attack from an outer enemy. Seven pilgrims go to the planet Hyperion, each with their own unique connection to the place. Their goal is the Time Tombs, a place where the tides of time itself are somehow reversed in a temporal anomaly. At the Time Tombs, they'll meet the Shrike, part god, part force of nature. One of the pilgrims will have their wish granted; the others will die.
Hyperion is the tale of that pilgrimage. Unlike other novels of its type, it doesn't go all-out to bring action and adventure to the reader. In fact, the space opera element is far from central to the story. Instead, characters dominate. Each of the central characters tells their story to the others, in the style of The Canterbury Tales, and it is through these novellas within the novel that the connection is forged between reader and character.
It's an effective technique. It's been a long time since I felt a real connection with a cast of characters, but with this group I felt a palpable bond forming after just the first couple of stories. Simmons expertly weaves each character's motivations into their being, and they really are real people in how they are portrayed.
Not every story is the same, and that's one thing that counts in favour of Simmons. Had he pursued telling six stories of a similar type he'd have quickly had a bored audience. Instead, there's a horror story, a war story, a love story, an intense personal drama and a detective story in the midst of the individual backstories. Not every one of these is outstanding, but by and large the standard is excellent.
My personal favourite was possibly the most character-oriented of the stories. Sol Weintraum's tale is a tale of a family tragedy, superbly handled by Simmons. It's not often I say this, but I really was sucked into the heartache of the family. But I was also struck by the multifaceted characters more here than at any other time. In the face of the tragedy there's the love between Sol and his wife, his unwavering dedication, his determination to see it through.
I wish I could read books more like Hyperion on a daily basis. It doesn't have to be epic space opera, or massive in scale in any way. Just get me involved, make me feel every character's emotions, and you'll have me truly drawn in. I'm looking forward to reading the second in the series.