As my Goodreads progress updates from this book were imported into Facebook, a number of friends were requesting my impressions, to know what I think about Hyperion. So here we go. I started Hyperion because it was one of those books that always featured in my Science Fiction Book Club leaflets when I was a teenager. I finished it because it is an elegant book with narratological layers and a compelling story.
Hyperion is the story of seven travellers—pilgrims—chosen to make the ‘last Shrike pilgrimage’ on the planet Hyperion (hence the title). As they make their journey, interstellar and then across Hyperion, each of them tells his or her story. This is not merely passing the time but seeking answers as to why they had been chosen by the Shrike Church to go on this pilgrimage. The end result of the pilgrimage is a place called the Time Tombs, where time itself is distorted, and where they will encounter a four-armed, metallic being called the Shrike, around whose cult the Shrike Church and Shrike pilgrimages arose.
Most of the book is taken up with the travellers’ tales. Simmons writes each tale in its own style—the ethnographer, the soldier, the mad/drunken poet, the academic, the private investigator, the diplomat. And as the stories unfold, so does the imagined universe of Hyperion and the story of the planet Hyperion. I like the narratological techniques, that the story is comprehensible at the beginning, but persevering throughout changes your understanding of earlier references either through deepening or shifting.
I have no doubt my opinion was solicited not only because this is a great piece of fiction (let alone science fiction), but also because of the various perspectives on religion represented. In this post-earth future, Christianity is almost dead (although we get the all-American favourite, a Roman Catholic priest, to represent the faith), and, as I say, cult has arisen surrounding the being called the Shrike, although not necessarily to worship it as a God, so much as to venerate it as God’s weapon of destruction. Other religions are mentioned throughout; one character is an agnostic Jew who has encounters in dreams and such that seem to be with the divine. Other characters also have dream encounters, or what seem to be dream encounters, with other intelligences. The book presents a lot to think about concerning belief and the fate of religion in a post-earth universe.
The other area of philosophical inquiry that unfolds slowly throughout the book is that of artificial intelligence and human interaction therewith. How far beyond us could AI go? Could it? How can humanity guide its future? What would the results be of super-powerful AIs that are beyond human control?
This is a great book, and now I need to read the sequel since I have no idea how any of it ends!