Centuries after the events of The Fall of Hyperion, and three and a half years after I read that book, Endymion takes place and I read it. I had actually forgotten that there was a book between this one and Hyperion; I described this as the second book in a series when friends asked me what I was reading. Oops! And it has been so long since I read the first two that my memories of the series were distant and vague.
That proved not as much of a barrier as I worried it would be. I’m still trying to figure out why I am so ambivalent towards Dan Simmons’ other work but loving the Hyperion Cantos. It isn’t the classical allusions—as much as I love the classics, that doesn’t work so much for me. But the books in this series are just so well constructed, characterized, and compelling in their depth and scope, that I’m happy to claim that this series represents some of the finest far-future space opera of the nineties.
It took me a little while to get a feel for Endymion. I wasn’t enjoying the introduction to Raul, his meeting with Martin Silenus, etc. Once Simmons introduces Father Captain de Soya and the hunt for Aenea, however, things pick up considerably. The way in which he cuts between the two perspectives of hunter and hunted works quite well. Ideally when an author does this, they manage to make you constantly yearn for both perspectives: just as it switches from Raul to de Soya we’re supposed to wonder how the fugitives will get out of their latest cliffhanger. I admit to some preference for de Soya’s story—but that’s mostly because I was so intrigued by the internal affairs of the Pax.
When we last saw the Pax, it was a growing political movement on Pacem—but now it has taken the place of the Hegemony in the former Web worlds. Thanks to the collapse of the fatline and data spheres, the Pax has an information monopoly that allows them to manipulate public perception (e.g., of things like the Ousters). Yet Simmons hints that, despite the piety implicit in Pax life, there are more sinister elements in the upper echelons of the Church. In Father Captain de Soya he creates a great antihero: sincere in his belief and devotion to God and the Church, de Soya nevertheless has enough independent thought to begin questioning when the facts stop adding up. He is an antagonist in the sense that he is working against our protagonists’ ends—but he is not a bad man or a villain by any means.
I didn’t really warm up to Raul. He’s not a bad character, in that he isn’t too whiny. He’s just not the type of main character I want to identify with too much … I never got any grasp on his personality beyond a sense of competence and occasional references to his grandmother. I found that I best enjoyed the chapters with him, Bettik, and Aenea touring the River Tethys if I ignored the overall plot and just focused on the dangers they faced on each planet.
These subplots turn Endymion from what could be a weak-but-sprawling space opera into a fluid-but-lengthy adventure story. The three fugitives face a new challenge on every world, always escaping by the skin of their teeth. Simmons finds the right balance between no exposition and too much as he reveals just enough to keep us guessing about the identities of those who are helping Aenea and their relationship to the Pax, which is so concerned with apprehending her. There are plenty of allusions to the events of the past two books—and I’d recommend reading them before reading this one—but by and large, Endymion is much more about Aenea’s personal development than wider galactic affairs.
She keeps referring to being guided towards an architect who can teach her. Simmons hints that Aenea will be a messiah, someone special with “powers.” Fortunately, he avoids the temptation of turning her into a creepy child who manifests those powers early. Aside from a psychic episode here or there, she has to rely on her own determination and resolve—plus the help from Raul and Bettik—to survive. I loved the moment where she pointed out that, from the moment she stepped from the Time Tombs, it has all been one “very long day” for her.
Endymion is long. But I actually like that about it. My weariness was sympathetic with the weariness the fugitives felt after their long journey, and with the weariness of de Soya and his minions for their constant deaths and resurrections. Simmons underscores how gallivanting through the galaxy is not a game for the merely human: space travel of any kind places demands on us that exceed what our bodies and minds evolved to handle. Though the TechnoCore’s role in this book is greatly reduced, Simmons reminds us that the existence of AI is a thorny existential issue for humanity.
In some ways, this book feels like filler between the conflicts begun in The Fall of Hyperion and what will hopefully be the resolution in The Rise of Endymion. I still enjoyed it, though, and heartily recommend it to those who read the first two books.