Hyperion is told from the point of view of six characters, each one a member of a pilgrimage to the planet of the title‘s name. Hyperion is a strange and dangerous planet, filled with unanswered mysteries and deadly dangers, the most dangerous being the Shrike, a creature of metal and menace that kills indiscriminately and often. The pilgrimage is one in which seven people journey to the Time Tombs, another mystery of Hyperion, and petition the Shrike. Of the seven, it is said, only one will be granted their wish; the other six will die.
Due to an imminent invasion of the planet Hyperion by one of mankind’s greatest enemies, this is said to be the last Shrike Pilgrimage. The seven people are as follows: The Consul, a man of important history and mysterious purpose, Sol Weintraub, a lapsed Jew on a quest to save his cursed daughter, Father Lenar Hoyt, a Catholic priest afflicted with a strange and brutally painful malady, Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a former soldier with a personal grudge against the Shrike, Martin Silenus, a prolific and profane poet trying to find his muse, the only woman, Brawne Lamia, a private detective carrying two secrets, and Het Masteen, a Templar nature priest and the only one whose story is not told.
In the style of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, we hear each pilgrim’s tale, and slowly begin to make connections between all of them and the strange planet Hyperion. Each has their reasons for being on the pilgrimage, each has lost something or gained something through contact with the planet, and each is bent on being the one whose wish is granted by the Shrike. Simmons does a fantastic job of building the suspense of the story through the six characters’ stories, each one slowly revealing more of the history of Hyperion, each disturbing and strange in their own way.
One of the best aspects of the book is the range shown by Simmons. The different perspectives give him a chance to tell widely different tales, while still following a main storyline. There is horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, epic fantasy, gritty noir, love story, and military fiction all rolled into one book. The different voices are distinct and memorable for the most part, although as the stories unfold, the earlier ones begin to lose some of their relevance. The thread he manages to weave through the six tales grows darker and more frightening as they go on, until at the end, you are shocked at all that is finally revealed.
The characters themselves are developed deeply in the space each is given to explain their reasons for coming on the pilgrimage. Brawne Lamia is a self-sufficient and dangerous woman, although there does seem to be the suggestion that she is more muscle than brain. She is very quick to anger, but also quick to love and fight for those she cares for, so I see her as a very passionate person in general. I don’t, however, like one of the secrets that she carries. I think it’s very cliché for a female character, and an obvious plot device. Surely Simmons could have chosen some other way to make her story more dramatic. There are several other female characters, a couple of whom are very admirable and very much in charge and in power, so that’s a point in his favor, but most often, the women have things happening to them, rather than causing things to happen.
The majority of the characters are male and white, but the addition of Fedmahn Kassad is a good one, especially considering this book came out in 1989. It isn’t often we see a positive example of a fighter from the Arab culture, and Kassad is a well-respected and even revered figure in the military culture of the book. There are some points in his story that come off as stereotypical, as he is seen as being more savage and ruthless then his white officer counterparts, but that’s as easily attributed to his upbringing on the streets as it is to his Arab culture. Sol Weintraub is also a nice addition, as I think there is a general under-representation of people of Jewish culture in science fiction and fantasy, and I think he reflects a modern demographic of those of Jewish ethnicity but lapsed faith and practice. The overall tone of the book is white and male, though, so I can’t help seeing Brawne and Fedmahn as token characters. I’ll be interested to see how the next book turns out in regards to these people.
The biggest drawback to this book is the ending. A somewhat out of place scene unfolds, where the main characters are moments away from their destination and the culmination of the pilgrimage, whatever that may bring. Sol Weintraub begins to sing lines from the Wizard of Oz, and the pilgrims end up walking together side by side, as Dorothy and her friends did, down into the valley of the Shrike, where the story is abruptly ended without resolution. It continues in The Fall of Hyperion, but the cliffhanger is so sharp and unexpected, and the ending so silly and jarring, that I almost feel like it will be difficult to begin the next book. It was definitely a WTF moment, which explains my title, although there were some other moments in the book that were as surprising, but more pleasantly so.
Of course, the rest of the book was so captivating that I will definitely be picking up the next, but I was seriously thrown off by the way Simmons ended the Hyperion. It feels very rushed and not well thought out, and I can only hope that the next one ends better. Over all, this was a very engrossing read, and I am anxious to find out what happens to the pilgrims once they confront the Shrike. A classic science fiction work, Hyperion would be a fun read for anyone. The stories make it easy to read in pieces and digest slowly, and the tie-ins towards the end will give you many Ah ha! moments. Again, considering this was written in 1989, I think this is a pretty inclusive work, and comparing it to today’s releases, it gets extra points for even it’s token characters, which most authors don‘t even bother with today. Absolutely worth reading.