Book Review: Endymion by Dan Simmons

It is 274 years after the Fall of the Hegemony precipitated by the destruction of all farcasters. All of the worlds in the former WorldWeb have become more isolated, and have developed more unique cultures, as travel distances again become a limiting factor. Into the void left by the Hegemony’s absence comes the Pax, spearheaded by a resurgent Catholic Church under Pope Julius XIV, born Lenar Hoyt, and the cruciform parasites which, thanks to the grace of God, now have the power to resurrect bearers time and time again without the mental retardation seen on Hyperion’s Bikura people.

In this world, a Hyperion tribesman named Raul Endymion is tasked by the poet Martin Silenus to meet Brawne Lamia’s daughter Aenea at the Sphinx Time Tomb, where she will be emerting, bring her to safety, destroy the Pax, and bring Old Earth back from where it had been stolen. All it’ll take is a journey down the River Tethys, where some entity has reactivated the long-dormant farcaster portals . . . portals that seem to work only for Aenea, mankind’s messiah, who is only twelve years old. Of course, the Pax has sent Father Captain Federico de Soya and his crack team of Swiss Guard to bring her back to the Vatican on the planet Pacem by any means necessary.

This book is wild, a total trip. And while more straightforward narratively than both Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion’s seemingly simple chase narrative has layers of complexity, thanks to its excellent characters and thoughtful worldbuilding.

Notice how I didn’t say “detailed” worldbuilding. Because while I’m sure Dan Simmons had a story bible somewhere, and while his world is detailed, every detail he shares is necessary to the overall plot.

And you might also be thinking that a river journey is a boring, contrived narrative device. In Simmons’s hands, it is not. We travel with Raul, Aenea, and their android friend A. Bettik through multiple worlds, and the adventures they have on their journey to a place neither Raul nor Aenea know are what propel the narrative. The Hyperion Cantos are meticulously plotted, so the river journey is not a plot device of last resort for a writer who does not know what to do next, but the plot device. For each world the trio visits is carefully chosen by the unknown entity that has activated the farcasters for a reason. And when they finally reach their ultimate destination, you will be chomping at the bit for the fourth and final book. At least I was.

Of course, the Shrike appears, but when it does, it’s unclear what its purposes are, or who sent it. For the Shrike had previously been thrown back in time by the TechnoCore AI’s god-like Ultimate Intelligence to drive the empathy part of humanity’s Ultimate Intelligence triune out of hiding to rejoin its brethren so their war can rage on in the future. This time, the Shrike seems to be on Aenea’s side . . . but why?

Dan Simmons

The imaginative worldbuilding, deep philosophical contemplation, and pulse-pounding action we’ve come to expect of this series is all here in Endymion, but I have to give a special shout-out to Simmons’s putative villain, Father Captain de Soya. De Soya is not a “bad guy” per se–he is a decent, intelligent, deeply pious man of God who is doing what he has been told by his superiors at the Vatican. And even though the church, with its promise of being born again that has led the overwhelming majority of the galaxy’s citizens to accept the cruciform and become Catholic, is the putative villain, Simmons avoids facile and trendy anti-Christian bigotry. It’s an incredibly delicate balance that Simmons walks with the skill of an utter master. It’s both a completely engrossing book on a story level and a breathtakingly impressive one on a technical level.

There are planets of frozen atmosphere and tribesmen who live in ice tunnes, the violet-sea-covered world of Mare Infinitus, the Hegemony Consul’s old ship and hawking mat (flying carpet), interstellar travel by means that kill the passengers, who can be resurrected by the cruciform, and a resurgent AI who was not really defeated and has created an even more deadly and implacable foe than the Shrike.

The word “masterpiece” gets thrown around quite liberally, but three books into the Hyperion Cantos and I already feel safe using the term to describe it. Everything I look for in sci-fi is here, and the fact that Simmons’s prose is fantastic is the icing on the cake. 

My only complaints are these: Raul Endymion isn’t all that interesting of a character, and I can’t quite pinpoint why; and the fact that this book and the next, The Rise of Endymion, are presented as Raul’s memoirs–albeit from a deathtrap/prison spaceship, sort of tip us off that Raul survives the obstacles he faces in this book. These are minor gripes that do nothing to detract from the enjoyment I got reading this book, a book that kept me up way past any sane hour many, many nights.

Obviously, I don’t recommend starting a read of the Hyperion Cantos with Endymion, because you’ll be utterly confused. Start at book one. You won’t be sorry.

Also: Yet another exquisite cover by Gary Ruddell. What you see on the cover is an accurate representation of what happens in the book. I can’t get enough of Mr. Ruddell’s covers. Give me this over generic spaceship shot number 6,000 or close up of some face any day.

Here’s the full painting: simply gorgeous. This is why I have Manuel Guzman do my book covers–he’s an artist in a similar mold.

Authors like Dan Simmons are why I got into writing sci-fi in the first place. Check out The Last Ancestor here.


    • Xavier,

      Not at all. None of the books are reminiscent of The Divine Comedy. If anything, Endymion reminded me of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, what with being a river journey on a raft, albeit through a river connected to different planets by portals.

      The first two books also don’t really have a Dante influence. Book one is like The Canterbury Tales in space, and book two is just . . . book two is just wild.

      Let me put it to you this way: John Keats and his poetry factor into these books in a HUGE way. It’s very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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