Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Fall of Hyperion

After my gushing praise of Hyperion back in January, it's perhaps a surprise to many (well, both of my readers) to hear that it's taken me until now to get round to reading its sequel. This surprise will be compounded by the fact The Fall of Hyperion has been sat on my bookcase waiting to be picked up since May. Surely I'd want to know the ending while the events of Hyperion were fresh in my mind?

Well, yes, but there has been plenty to read in the mean time. The Scar. Iron Council. Helliconia. A Dance With Dragons. You get the picture. Besides, I didn't want to get to the end of The Fall of Hyperion and find I didn't like it. I was so emotionally connected to certain characters that I didn't want an unsatisfying end to their tales.

Whether the conclusions of those individual threads of narrative were satisfying or not is for you to find out. Read The Fall of Hyperion. Read it now. Rush out of the house without setting the alarm and camp outside Waterstones if you have to. (Or just buy it on the Kindle, which is easier and probably much cheaper). Because The Fall of Hyperion is a worthy successor to Hyperion.

The first thing to note is that the narrative structure is much-changed. The Canterbury Tales style of the first volume of the Hyperion Cantos served its time and was released in favour of a more conventional, linear style. The background tale has been told and from now on it's only forward, with events quickly unfolding.

The events of the first volume - not counting the prologue - covered around six days. The events of this volume last around a fortnight, by my reckoning. It's a fraught three weeks. This instalment introduces a cybrid of poet John Keats, who serves as the main narrator. It's through him that we hear the events unfolding which surround the Shrike pilgrims and the other events which plunge the Web into chaos in the face of war with the Ousters.

This is the volume where the action is. For the 471 pages of Hyperion we got back story, set-up, exposition - call it what you will. For the 535 pages of The Fall of Hyperion we get that back story placed into context, twisted, linked, like sand being melted into glass, with all becoming clear. Anyone who has only read the first volume should read it again and try to predict the twists which follow - they're unexpected, but work superbly. The pace of events is relentless, and Simmons does well to not get bogged down at times.

Simmons writes with clarity and sharpness. He's very technically correct, but his characters lose nothing for it. I criticised Alastair Reynolds' debut novel Revelation Space once upon a time for having excellent prose but very little character, but Simmons doesn't fall into that trap (and I'll be the first to admit to really liking Reynolds' short fiction, which doesn't have the same problem). There's still a pathos to each individual character. And one of the best things about them is that they're all different. Whilst there are one or two caricatures to be found in the minor characters (a la Iain M. Banks), by and large each character is well-rounded and human. They have motivations for everything they do and there aren't any moments I can think of where a character does something that has me asking 'why'. Their reasoning may be flawed... but it is at least reasoning and not irrationality.

And the ending? Did I find it satisfying? There were a few problems with it, to be honest. After 970 pages, the final 35 or so struggled with having to finish off the whole shebang. The climax had been reached already, the major revelations unveiled and all that was left to be done was the tying off of loose ends. It felt typically post-climactic and was frustrating in that regard. But considering that standard of what went before it's not perhaps too much of a surprise. Simmons made a rod for his own back with his own standards of storytelling.

So, what do we have? We have a space opera of the highest standard, vying for a place alongside Iain M. Banks' Use of Weapons in the SF hall of fame. Disappointing final few pages aside, it's as gripping a story as I've read all year. I'll be moving on to the second part of the Hyperion Cantos soon: roll on Endymion!

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