The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons (Doubleday, 1990)

Grade: Ε — Readable (albeit irritating) in genre, but you could do better.  

In brief:[1]

The Fall of Hyperion is the mediocre second volume in Dan SimmonsHyperion series (serial).  While it does conclude the cliffhanger end of Hyperion it also reduces the value that book by showing that the themes and stylistic meanderings of the first volume were little more than intellectual games, and that the overall plot was a rather pedestrian messiah story. 

Setting:

Far future Ultratech (actually, more magicky then ultratech, but hey) interstellar space where Earth has long since been destroyed, AIs exist, and humans have split into two distinct factions: Hegemony and Ousters.

In Depth:

I ended my review of Hyperion by noting that I held the right to disavow myself of any of the praise I gave that first volume when I finished The Fall of Hyperion. Well… I’m taking myself up on that option.

To say I was disappointed in the second volume of the Hyperion series is an understatement.  I suppose such a disappointment is almost inevitable, given how much promise the first volume showed.  Perhaps if I read this book immediately after the first I might have enjoyed it more, but I doubt it.  Indeed, one of my biggest complaints of it is the repetitive nature of much of the book, but I get ahead of myself. 

In essence, I feel that Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion do not work as a narrative tale, and that as a stylistic musing Simmons bit off more than he could chew.  I give him an A for effort, but a Zeta for results. 

The Fall of Hyperion picks up almost precisely where Hyperion left off, but rather than follow the Cantebury Tales/Pilgrims Progress style of the first book, it becomes a rather banal narrative that reduces the importance of the first book’s principal characters and introduces new elements to the tale. More damningly, it introduces two new Point-of-View characters whose actions and perspective take over the story arc. The characters, neither of whom were on the initial Pilgrimage are Meina Gladstone, the CEO of the Hegemony, and Joseph Severn, the reincarnated cybrid (AI generated personality created from references to an original human and placed into a clone-like body) of the 19th Century poet John Keats. While both were characters in the first volume, they step to the forefront, and take over the entire action arc of story.  Since the first book is spent building up the pilgrims as characters and ended in a cliffhanger, this is both jarring and irritating as a reader.

What is more, both characters are blatantly based on historic figures.  Now, to create secondary characters that are clearly (clearly… crystal friggin’ clearly) derived from real historic figures is one thing, but to put us into their heads and show us the world from their point-of-view is something else.

It is almost forgivable with Gladstone, who is a combination of British Prime Ministers Gladstone and Churchill, and of US President Abraham Lincoln. This isn’t supposition on my part; it is stated in the text in no uncertain terms.  If you have to spell out your symbolism so clearly as to use the person’s name, repeated note the physical similarity to the second individual (Lincoln) and then quote-line-to-line one of the most famous of all their speeches (Churchill), you’ve missed the boat. Symbolism is pointless if you spell it out and then hit one repeatedly over the head with it.  As a result, Simmons ended up with a prime actor and perspective character that more or less irritated me. 

Worse still was the introduction of the Joseph Severn/John Keats cybrid character, who through dreams and visions becomes the central point-of-view for the whole second book.  YES, I get the fact that Simmons’ was attempting to mimic Keats’ famous poem, The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream, but to do it so blatantly is just not so brilliant.[2]  For one thing, it begs comparison to the poet himself, and Keats was one of the most talented poets in the English language, tragically cut down before his time.  Personally?  I’d be a little reluctant to suggest any comparison between my own work and any such notable’s.  I’m a perfectly serviceable writer and archaeologist, but to put myself in direct comparison to any of the greats?  Eeeeerwwwrrrgggg….

You see, the Servern/Keats cybrid character is supposed to be the AI compiled reincarnated version of the actual historic John Keats, recreated through interpolation of the man’s poetry, memoires, historic accounts etc., then more or less downloaded into a cloned body that is also in someway or another kind-of-like-an-androidy type thing.  Fine.  Belief suspended, though with some effort.  Yet if that is the case, if this cybrid Keats is supposed to have the historic Keats’ memories and life experiences and all of that as a foundation, why doesn’t he bear any resemblance to someone who lived between 1795 and 1821?  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t sound like it, he doesn’t act like it, he doesn’t think like it.  This character is supposed to have the equivalent of 26 years of life in the late 18th and early 19th century, yet his dialogue and behavior in no way resembles that of the time period.  Nothing.  He sounds and acts more or less like everyone else in the Hegemony (a.k.a. 20th to 21st Century America).  His voice most certainly does not sound like someone of Keats’ class, education or professional calling coming from Regency England.[3] 

So as such, neither new POV character worked for me. Since the bulk of the plot is seen through their eyes and results from their action, this is a major problem.

What is more, we spent a very very long portion The Fall of Hyperion recounting what happened in the last book.  At least a third, if not half, of The Fall was really just revisiting Hyperion‘s characters and lives. This is extremely frustrating because Hyperion is really little more than a set up story (albeit very well done), that spends its entire text introducing those concepts.  To then revisit said topics so repeatedly in this book proved extremely frustrating; a real GET ON WITH IT moment.[4]

The majority of what is left of The Fall of Hyperion goes on to discuss other elements of the world and story arc from POVs we didn’t have in the first book.  To that end, the principal actors from the first volume become secondary, almost background characters in this story and instead we follow the plotlines surrounding Gladstone and Keats (both characters that you may have gathered I didn’t think worked too well).  Indeed, early on we are treated to the knowledge that all the action in this book is really just the manifestation of Keats’ perspective. Even events that appear to be from the POV of other characters are really just glimpses of Keats’ visions.

This is a clear attempt to mimic Keats’ own style and narrative form, but it just doesn’t pay off.  For one thing, Simmons’ is not Keats and is not writing in poetic form.  For another, as a reader I did want to get on with the story left as a cliffhanger in the first volume.  YES, I get that Keats’ own Hyperion was an unfinished work, but such a blatant and heavy handed mimicry of it strikes me as… well… sophomoric. 

What is more, if you ignore the stylistic musings, the actual plotline fails. If you view this book as the second volume in a serial tale, the story as a whole is disappointing.  We spend the first volume getting to know the principal characters extremely well through a series of shorts.  This sets us up to follow on with their progress to the conclusion of their task, yet the second volume does not do this. Instead, it introduces new characters (described above) who are the actual actors in the play, spend the bulk of the text recounting what happened in the first book, introduces new elements to the story arc that significantly diminishes everything we learned in the first book, then becomes a somewhat pedestrian messiah tale with illusions of grandeur and more many words than are really needed.[5]  Indeed, one cannot help but think that the story arc of the first book could readily have been concluded in one or two hundred pages and the tale would have been all the better for it. 

As for the character arcs in the first book, well… let’s just say they do all close, but almost as an after thought. Indeed, I cannot think of a single one of the pilgrims introduced in the first book whose storyline ended in a manner that I felt was anything but disappointing. 

To that end, if Keats’ poem, Hyperion is an abandoned attempt at an epic in the style of Milton, Simmons’ Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion are failed attempts at an epic in the style of Keats.  I suppose, in that form, Simmons did succeed at his attempted artistry, but perhaps not quite in the manner he had intended. [6]


[1] A quick apology to one and all for the delay in posting this, the 101st blog post; I’m afraid that I’ve spent the last couple of days snowed in without power, so this was the first chance I had to put up the blog. 

[2] and before you say it, yes, I get that Simmons’ attempted to distance the whole Keatsey thing by also using the name of the artist who was with him when he died (Severn).  It still doesn’t work.

[3] Okay, technically Keats died in ’21, but still….

[4] And Yes, I get that this is a play on the And Yes, I get that this is a play on Keat’s The Fall of Hyperion.  It didn’t work.

[5] Much like this sentence.

[6] Indeed, perhaps there was a reason Keats never finished the poem eh?  Oh it’s glorious writing, but perhaps he realized that it wasn’t going anywhere.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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7 Responses to The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons (Doubleday, 1990)

  1. Shannon says:

    I have the other three in the Hyperion series still to read. I’ve heard that each book in the series kind of gets worse and worse. Well, I still want to read them. But I imagine I’m still going to like Hyperion the most and it is apparently also the best in the series.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I’ve heard the same thing, and if it’s a linear progression of descent, I think I might throwup while reading the third. As a result, I don’t think I’ll bother with the rest. If, however, you find any of them better, let me know! I’d so like to return to liking the book. Heavy sigh…

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Hmm, I have a soft spot for this both Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion (if you hated this one don’t touch the next two sequels — they get even worse) — I read them years ago so I don’t remember any details but they helped hook me on sci-fi…. I wish I could remember more than the barest plot outlines — although a lot came back after reading your review (but I think that I remember the most from the first book and almost nothing from the last two).

  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    I wish I remember more from the novel…. The impression I had was that it was almost as good as Hyperion. But I read it so long ago and a my more mature eye (or at least I think it is) might appraise it differently.

  4. William says:

    I’d read Fall of Hyperion and enjoyed it, though I confess I haven’t read the first book yet. Have you read Simmons’s Ilium books? The first one’s pretty good, but the second (and final) was a bit anti-climactic.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I haven’t, but must admit I was more than a bit put off by his combined efforts of Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. I wonder if I would have felt the same if I had not read Hyperion first. Perhaps I will give a try to Illium, though I have such a backlist of books I doubt it will be any time soon.

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