In this sequel to Hyperion, Dan Simmons picks up right where he left at the end of the first book, following the pilgrims as they descend into the Shrike’s valley. We again meet The Consul, Brawne Lamia, Fedmahn Kessad, Sol Weintraub and his daughter Rachel, Martin Silenus, Father Lenar Hoyt, and Het Masteen, the pilgrims all striving to reach and petition the Shrike for their one wish to be granted. In another part of space, we also follow Meina Gladstone, the CEO of the Hegemony, the empire of man, as she prepares to fight a war within a war.
An interesting addition to the cast is Joseph Severn, a duplicate of the original Keats retrieval persona from the first book whom Brawne Lamia protected and fell in love with. Severn assists Gladstone, giving her information about the pilgrimage that no one else could have access to, due to the fact that he dreams their activities while he sleeps. Perhaps this is because of some strange connection to the persona Brawne Lamia is carrying in her storage device, the Shron loop, but the connection is never really explained.
As the book progresses, we begin to learn of a dark secret that lives under the surface of the Hegemony. Humans are mere unwitting slaves to the TechnoCore, the mass data community of the super-powerful AI’s. Gladstone is determined to break free from the control of the TechnoCore at any and all costs, in order to save humankind from an eon of slavery. The Ousters, thought to be man’s greatest enemy, are in fact the enemy of the Techno-core, having created new and amazing technologies in order to avoid using Techno-core devices. They desire to control Hyperion and the Shrike, not to destroy the Hegemony of Man.
First of all, you can not really follow this book without first reading Hyperion. There are series where it’s possible to read out of order and understand, but this isn’t one of them. Think of Hyperion as merely a prologue to the events in this book, something you can’t do without when getting to the main story. The stories of the pilgrims are vital to understanding the events that befall them at the end of their quest, and there is just not enough space in Fall of Hyperion to recap effectively. I think viewing Hyperion as the prologue is very accurate, because there isn’t time to develop all the myriad characters well in the second installment. You need Hyperion to feel emotionally attached to the pilgrims.
This is a very complex book, and really, an extremely complex series. Simmons is adept at creating and following stories within stories, at weaving characters with convoluted pasts while making their future just as confusing and unclear. This makes for a slow but rich read; it isn’t a book where you can just turn your brain off and enjoy. Constantly keeping up with the many main characters is difficult but doable, and following all the story lines is the task of a dedicated reader.
The themes in Fall of Hyperion are as varied as the characters. The love of a parent for a child, sacrifice, love, hate, revenge, redemption, acceptance, tolerance, the search for freedom, the fear of death, the search for understanding and God, pain. Each character is striving to complete some personal quest, while at the same time, complete the ultimate quest of learning the truth about the Shrike, and through that, the TechnoCore.
There are two main female characters in this, Brawne Lamia and Meina Gladstone. I feel like Brawne was even more reduced in this book, her role becoming that of observer and carrier. She rarely takes any action of her own, instead she follows others and watches as they take action. There is one scene where she faces the Shrike and wins, but it’s played down later on when we begin to learn the source of her power. Brawne went from gritty P.I. to tragic lover to an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, her personality decreasing with each change of status. This is a total waste, and I’m saddened that a character that started out so vital was reduced so heavily in this way.
Meina Gladstone is a more interesting character, although we never learn much about her background. She is determined to make the hard, impossible decisions in order to reach her ultimate goals. She’s a sharp, uncompromising, and often ruthless woman, but underneath, she is wracked by pain and guilt for the things she must do in order to help the Hegemony of Man. Gladstone is very much human, and generally the fact that she’s a woman has absolutely nothing to do with her story, which is how I wish all characters were written. But the last scene of her, I think would not have been written if she were a man. As ruthless and unapologetic as she appears to be throughout the story, she seems to admit her mistakes and give up, giving over to the mob in a way that punishes her for doing the right thing. I think this is a total cop-out. It seems much more likely that she would have continued in some capacity as CEO, rebuilding and reshaping the Hegemony, rather than stepping down in a dramatic and pointless gesture.
I won’t even mention what happens to Rachel, but I didn’t like it at all.
It’s a great book, with heart wrenching scenes and lines that make you think very deeply. The poetry included is at times beautiful, at others bleak, and it’s use in this story is a good contrast and an interesting premise. There are times where I think Simmons was being complicated just to be complicated, rather than to further the story, and I can’t really approve of the women in this book. They’re made to seem powerful, but it is eventually revealed that none of them are, that they are merely pawns in a greater storyline. I recommend this book as a classic in science fiction, as an amazing look at one possible future for the human race, and as an interesting idea about where artificial intelligence and reliance on technology could take us, but Feminist SF this is not.