Review of Olympos by Dan Simmons
by Dan Simmons
Sometimes, Kara, you need to listen to yourself more. I really should have read my review of Ilium before diving into Olympos. Not only would it have refreshed me on the plot, but I actually mentioned the uncomfortable, rapey, male-gazeyness of Simmons’ writing in that review. This is what clinched my dislike of Olympos. As with Ilium, I almost gave up on it—but I soldiered on, and honestly? Not worth it.
Picking up where Ilium left off, Olympos has a lot of plot threads/characters to summarize, so bear with me. First we have Thomas Hockenberry, a “scholic” rebuilt from the writings and DNA of a 21st-century scholar to bear witness to the ersatz Trojan War playing out on a terraformed Mars. He has had a part in convincing the Trojans and Greeks to unite against the Olympian Gods, who are actually posthumans. Into this fray come the moravecs, part-human and part-machine, descendants of machines sent out to Jupiter prior to humanity’s leap into posthumanity. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the “old style” humans need to rediscover a lot of technology and skills fast, because their former servitor robots the voynix are really keen on killing all the humans. This includes Ada, now preggo with Harman’s baby, and Harman himself, who quickly becomes embroiled further with the mysterious beings known as Prospero and Ariel. In the background lurks Setebos, some kind of alien incorporated as a brain with a terrifying number of hands for limbs.
I’ll give this to Dan Simmons: Olympos offers a lot of explanations for the mysteries broached in Ilium. It’s just that most of them aren’t great. My praise for the first book centred on how Simmons explores the nature of literacy and the benefits and drawbacks it has bequeathed on humanity. Olympos largely jettisons these themes in favour of action; the themes mostly seem to trend towards “lots of tech good, but play nice with other branches of humanity” without much clarity there either.
Oh, and then of course, there’s all the sex stuff. What is it with cis white male science-fiction authors and an obsession with sexytimes? Asimov was conservative enough at least to merely be sexist in his descriptions of women. Simmons is closer to Larry Niven, whose obsession with “rishathra” torpedoed any enjoyment I could get from the Ringworld series. Everyone in this book is so horny. Add to that the descriptions of things, not even people, but things in terms of “the shape of a woman’s thighs,” and I was so close to noping out.
Then Simmons decides it would be a good idea to include rape as a plot point. Not just any rape either. No, in this case, Harman has to have sex with an unconscious woman who looks like someone he knew from the first book (Savi) because the DNA in his semen is the key to unlocking her from stasis.
I am not kidding. I nearly threw my book across the room. I persevered mostly so that I would never, ever be tempted to pick up this book again just to know how it ends. But I am telling you all now, any readers of this review, that if you are in the middle of this book and wondering if it is worth it, it is not.
I would like to spoil the ending for you, but I am going to be honest, a lot of the explanation just doesn’t make sense in a narrative sense. Like, the Big Idea does—and it’s cool, but I have seen it done better elsewhere, and Simmons just kind of drops it onto the table like a flopping, soon-to-be-dead fish so that he can spend more time telling us how fuckable Helen of Troy is. Nor does the ending really matter. Everything gets tied up just a little too neatly, as if Simmons wants us to gaze upon him admiringly and say, “Oooh, look at how clever you are for plotting all that!” And hey, maybe I would, if you hadn’t been rapey as fuck.
I am done with you, Dan Simmons. Good day.