Hyperion by Dan Simmons

In most novels exploring a possible future there is a very clear and distinct fault line through the setting’s history. The events in the author’s past are noticeably different from those that are imagined. As the author begins to write about an imagined future, everything in it becomes fantastical. It becomes an exercise in imagination and hypothetical. This creates a disjoint between the wild, different future and the ordinary, well understood past. One of my favourite things about Hyperion by Dan Simmons is that this break in history is entirely hidden.

Simmons imagines a world hundreds of years into the future, where mankind has colonised various faraway planets and created the “WorldWeb”, a series of worlds connected by instantaneous travel gateways called “Farcasters”. While the majority of the novel’s universe’s inhabitants live in the WorldWeb, it’s events largely concern the titular planet which exists outside of it. Hyperion is one of many “Outback” worlds which are not connected to the WorldWeb and require years of travel in a fugue state to reach. One of the sci-fi themes that Hyperion explores is the consequences of the “time debt” this travel incurs; travelers lose years of time with their family, sometimes becoming older than their own parents.

The setting blends real history with the imagined future seamlessly. The three Abrahamic religions still exist, largely unchanged, alongside radical fictional religions. Characters refer to artists, writers and scientists from throughout real and imagined history. The fictional thinkers often build on the works and ideas of the real ones. Technology has leapt forward in some fields but remained largely stagnant in others. All of this leads to a future that feels as though it grew out of the real world’s past, rather than an author’s overzealous imagination.

Hyperion’s main story thread follows a series of travellers making a pilgrimage to Hyperion. The main thread is a frame for the meat of the novel which is the stories the pilgrims tell each other about their reasons for travelling. Each pilgrim’s story is written in a style particular to that character. The poet narrates in a grand epic style. The detective tells a noir style detective thriller. Every story is personal and emotionally powerful and combined, they tell a broader story about the future history of mankind, its technology, ideology and politics, and about the strange, powerful and supernatural part that Hyperion plays in it. The reader arrives at the end of the novel as the main characters arrive at the end of their journey, with a much fuller understanding of the world they live in and what awaits them at their nearby destination.

The story ends abruptly but left me feeling fulfilled. Apparently this is the first of a pair of novels which were split for publishing reasons rather than by the author’s intent. I definitely intend to read the second. I found the characters compelling and real, the world engaging and fascinating and the Canterbury Tales style structure refreshing and well executed. Hyperion has become one of my favourite science fiction works and is one of the best novels I have read in a long time.