Book Review – Endymion by Dan Simmons

I read Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, the first two books in Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, in 2010, because I was looking to expand my science fiction horizons. (Pretty much the same reason I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress last year.)

Both were dense, not just in writing but also in subject matter, but they were fascinating stories, though I got the sense I was only grasping about half of what Simmons wanted me to. Though I liked the books well enough and could definitely appreciate the skill with which Simmons wrote, they were hard as hell to get through at times. Once I’d finished them, I figured I was done.

Endymion by Dan SimmonsThen I was at the used bookstore and spotted a copy of Endymion, book three of the Hyperion Cantos, and I picked it up and read the first sentence.

You are reading this for the wrong reason.

My attention. You have it.

I bought it and started reading it in 2012. Obviously, it took awhile for me to finish. This is in a large part because I spent most of last year rewriting my WIP not just once, but twice, and at the end of the day I wanted a book I could read quickly and that wouldn’t require me to parse futuristic technological terms and philosophical discussions.

But over the past two months, I’ve sat down and read it. And discovered the rich, multi-layered world I’ve come to expect from Simmons, along with a protagonist I loved in Raul Endymion.

Endymion takes place nearly 300 years after The Fall of Hyperion. Raul is a Hyperion native, working as a guide for hunters that come to the planet, just one of the many jobs he’s had over his 27 years.

By that time in my life I had learned a little bit about sex and much about weapons, had discovered firsthand the power greed has in the affairs of men and women, had learned how to use my fists and modest wits in order to survive, was curious about a great many things, and felt secure only in the knowledge that the remainder of my life would almost certainly hold no great surprises.

I was an idiot.

I love this guy.

Raul is sentenced to death after he kills a man in self-defense, but wakes up after his execution to find he’s been rescued by an ancient old man with a favor to ask. Raul’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to rescue 12-year-old Aenea from the Time Tombs and keep her safe from the various forces that seek to destroy her. Because Aenea is the new messiah, and her message will shape the course of humanity.

After 300 years, we see how the events of The Fall of Hyperion have affected the formerly interconnected worlds of the Web. Worlds that were one beacons of civilization are now nearly empty, the population dead from starvation or infighting. Worlds that were popular tourist destinations when terraformed have been reclaimed by nature, and the remaining humans there eke out a scarce existence.

Rather than the Hegemony, the prime governing body is now the Pax, which has grown out of the Catholic Church, a religion that was nearly extinct during Hyperion.

The Pax makes use of the cruciforms, cross-shaped parasites that attach to the body and can completely resurrect the host from just about any kind of death. This gave the Church the boost it needed to become a major force in the universe, with billions of people scrambling for the promise of literal eternal life.

And the Pax, with its massive armies and nigh-unlimited resources, is after Aenea.

The book alternates between two viewpoints for the most part: Raul’s, in first person as he transcribes his memories of meeting Aenea, and then Father Captain Frederico de Soya, the Pax captain in charge of Aenea’s capture, in third person present tense.

I by far preferred being in Raul’s point of view, in a large part because it always takes me a bit to get used to present tense. Simmons does it well, but my personal issues with it were still there, enough so that I would groan when I saw viewpoints had switched again. (De Soya himself is a good character, don’t get me wrong, and I liked him, but I had the most trouble reading his sections.)

It didn’t help that de Soya’s sections also seemed to be more crammed with description, like the four solid paragraphs that take up three-quarters of a page detailing the hierarchy of the Church, when the salient bit of information from this info-dump is tucked at the very end of the final paragraph.

I understand adding context and sometimes exposition is required, particularly in science fiction and fantasy novels where you’re dealing with so much new stuff, but damn. Dude, cut to the chase already.

In fact, if there was anything that annoyed me about the book, it was that: the occasional forays into too much description or too much philosophizing. And poetry excerpts. Thankfully these weren’t long, but damn, I hate poetry excerpts in novels. (At least we didn’t go into three pages of Elvish poetry a la Tolkien. Yeesh.)

Generally, I liked Raul better not only as a narrator, but as a character as well. He doesn’t see himself as a hero by any stretch of the imagination, but once he promises to protect Aenea, he sets about doing the best job he can despite the overwhelming odds against him.

He has a sense of humor that comes across in both his narration and his interactions with others (“Bring on the velociraptors!” made me giggle out loud), he and makes an effort to lighten dire situations with a joke, even if it falls flat.

He’s not perfect, and he’s not terribly well-equipped for the job he’s doing. We see his doubts, his fears, and his determination; we see him fall and get back up; we see that maybe Raul is, at heart, the hero he doesn’t believe himself to be.

Would I recommend this book? It’s difficult to say. I’ll almost certainly pick up The Rise of Endymion because I want to find out what happens to Raul, but I don’t have the gripping “must know NOW” sense I did after finishing some other novels (Cinder and Changeless spring to mind). I think that’s because I know it’ll be a tough read, and I have to steel myself for it.

Endymion may not be easy to read, but it is a well-written novel with a rich and fascinating world. If you’re a fan of science fiction and haven’t read the Hyperion novels, I would tentatively recommend them as long as you know what you’re getting into.

I don’t think you have to read Hyperion or The Fall of Hyperion in order to enjoy Endymion (the story is comparatively stand-alone), but it would add much more to your experience if you did.

And if you’re not a science fiction fan, you might want to look for a slightly easier introduction to the genre.

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4 comments on “Book Review – Endymion by Dan Simmons

  1. Paul says:

    Well-worth the wait! I would only nitpick one thing that you wrote…but there’s no way to do so without being very spoiler-y. Remind me when you’ve finished “Fall”!

    Seeing the cover of the book reminded me of my favorite element of “Endymion” – the Odyssey-like journey they take through the abandoned gate worlds. I remember a visit to an ice world that was particularly striking. It’s rare in fiction that you get such a thorough look at “what comes after.” It’s one of the things that made “The Alloy of Law” so enjoyable.

    I think of Simmons in the same way that I do Neal Stephenson. The books aren’t always the easiest reads, but they are so well-considered and densely populated with fine detail that if you can stick with it, they are experiences well-worth having. We may not have the same kind of love affair with them that we do other books (like your “Cinder” and “Changeless”), but reading your review, Michelle, reminded me of how glad I am that I had the experience of reading them. I don’t know…maybe we care about these books in the way we fondly remember that firm, but fair professor we once had?

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