Hyperion is generally regarded as a science fiction classic, it tends to be included in most "Best SF Novels of All-Time" lists. I first read it when it was first published in paperback, at the time I had no idea I was reading a book that is destined to become a classic in the genre. When I began to participate in online sf books discussion groups not so long ago (primarily PrintSF
these days) I noticed how often Hyperion is mentioned, usually reverent tones. A reread is then in order because I have entirely forgotten what is so good about it, besides I have not read the subsequent books in the Hyperion Cantos
. If I remember correctly I could not get my mitts on a copy of The Fall of Hyperion at the time. Anybody who is familiar with the works on Dan Simmons will know how versatile he is. Simmons has published books in several genres including, sf, fantasy, horror, crime, and non-fiction. I can not say that he excels in all of them because I have only read his sf and horror novels but it would not surprise me if he does.
Hyperion is beautifully structured and skillfully built up from gradually introducing the reader to the universe of the book to taking the readers through the adventures of the seven protagonists. It is one of those rare books that is highly readable from start to finish, yet its accessibility belies its complexity. The novel is comprised of brilliant six distinct novella length stories wrapped within a frame story (a la The Canterbury Tales). This book encompasses several different styles or sf sub genres including space opera, hard sf, soft sf, military sf, cyberpunk, horror, and even literary fiction, each story even manage to encompass multiple subgenres. The different parts combine into a cohesive excellent volume, Simmons' wonderful versatility is amply showcased by the different narrative voice and tone he adopts for each part.
My favorite is Part 5, The Detective's Tale: "The Long Good-Bye"
which begins as a noir crime fiction then transform into a cyberpunk story with a ton of action with a touch of martial arts and even romance. The difference in narrative voice is particularly noticeable here, Brawne Lamia is the only female protagonist but kicks more asses than all the males put together yet still comes across as feminine. It is a sort of The Long Goodbye in reverse with the woman as the private eye. Part 4, The Scholar's Tale: "The River Lethe's Taste is Bitter"
also deserves a special mention as the saddest, most poignant story here, somewhat reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon crossed with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. All the parts are great though, these two are just my personal highlights. An earlier story even reminds me of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness before things take a left turn into Twilight Zone-ish weirdness.
Characterization is certainly a strong point of this book, all the characters are complex and believable, moments of humor and irony are discreetly slipped in to prevent the book from becoming leaden. The prose style, as mentioned previously, changes in accordance with the setting and character, as a whole the book is beautifully written. I also love that the book ends on a surprisingly cheerful musical note (though not quite a song and dance number) which is also something of a cliffhanger, and our "heroes" are far from safe.
If you count yourself an sf fan you need to read this. If you just want to read a damn good book this is also for you.