Book Review: Hyperion By Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons Hyperion - Header

He speaks fluent French, took one of the most rewteeted selfies of all time, and happens to be one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, in both the looks and property department. There are many, many reasons that you can dislike the apparent perfectionist talents of Bradley Cooper. And now he is turning his attentions to conquering the small screen, as he helps bring to life Dan Simmons’s award winning novel Hyperion.

I must confess, until I heard that Cooper was attempting this feat, and the ensuing discussion as to whether there is actually anything that Cooper cannot do, I’d never heard of Simmons or his story, but because the discussions around Cooper’s choice of source material seemed to suggest that this was something of a quality book, commanding almost cult status which would be a challenge to bring to life I was intrigued. I wanted to read it, to see what story Cooper was attempting to relay.

Pigrimage - Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion is an apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel. The brief synopsis designed to sell the book hinting at a story of a pilgrimage enveloped by the enclosing eye of the universe ending disaster, searching for a mythical creature and looking for the ultimate truth in the universe before the end of all time. It sounded a gripping story and one I was looking forward to reading. But sadly, the story I found just seemed to pale in comparison. It didn’t live up to the hype.

The book feels futuristic and you can tell that it’s Science Fiction. It doesn’t feel set on Earth. It doesn’t feel of this time. It manages to pull off the trick of conveying day to day life: the monotony of transport and accommodation, of sustenance and relaxation in a way that feels acceptable and routine but also totally different. The characters live like you or me, but don’t fit into the world we habit. They are not of our time, feeling of the future and so you completely believe in the time frame in which Hyperion occurs. It helped as well that at no point did I think I was reading a story that was hiding it’s true meaning. I felt like this was simply a tale of the characters and their journey. A story based around their personalities, their lives and their emotions rather than an attempt to make a grander statement about anything. All I had to do was focus on seven pilgrims and their reasons for being.

But that created the first problem: whilst the characters are interesting there are just too many of them. The book feels very slow at times and with so much narrative introduction ever growing our perception and reasoning of the characters, each of their stories just ended up feeling slightly condensed. Glossed over or ending abruptly to ensure that the bigger picture never grew to large but ultimately destroying the individual tales. Destroying them because the characters are great and I truly connected with them getting lost in their stories. But over and over again I’d lost myself into a new tale only to have it stop and dump me back into the colder, wider story, left with unanswered questions and a story failing to coherently fit together.

Missing Pieces - Hyperion by Dan Simmons

And that leads nicely into my second problem. The bigger story was very hard to follow. Each individual stories is so wildly different, slow and fragmented that you can’t fit the pieces together in your mind. I’d be enveloped by the spotlight on a single character so much that by the time the book returned to its main, universe ending, story in which the characters travelling I’d completely forgotten the set up, and therefore, references made to original plot points came more as a shock than providing an conclusion or clarity as I suddenly remembered the opening pages. It feels like seven interesting short stories tacked together by an ever larger idea but not in any harmonious way. I hate to say it but I almost want seven short stories rather than one single book.

It didn’t help the book that I could never fully commit to it because I could never fully accept it’s handling of time. Obviously, when you are invoking space travel and the distances involved, time and character ageing can become difficult. Hyperion finds a plausible way round this using the idea of deep sleep (with characters ageing days while the world around them passes years) but this meant that characters in the book would be devoid from each other for periods of time which I couldn’t accept anybody would ever be prepared to tolerate or life through. Hyperion asks you to image that relationships will survive decades of separation and characters ageing at rates beyond plausibility. 20 year olds ending up courting 70 year olds while discussing the honeymoon period of romances. It made sense but felt impossible.

Bradley Cooper - Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion never really won me over as a story. It just swings too wildly from spotlight to spotlight to let you connect the dots which is a shame as I truly like the characters. They are interesting but they are all just individuals, nothing of substance binding them together to make the book work as a whole. Dan Simmons brings the world to life well, the book was beautifully written (even if he does abbreviate names and places a little too much without a key to decode them) and I truly think it will make a good TV series if Bradley Cooper can pull it off because I can see each character getting an episode and the focus of that allowing you to lose the bigger picture without the same problems. But in written from, Hyperion just never got inside me. I never felt anything emotional response to the story, it was just an interesting read, presenting likeable characters, with ideas that seem fitting but it hasn’t left me wanting to read more by Simmons. I have come away  from Hyperion feeling happy, but purely because I’ve just read a good story. It hasn’t changed my life but rather just fingered my imagination.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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