Review of Hyperion (1989)


Dan Simmons (writer).

Read in 2018.

Soft SF, space opera. It’s pleasant as slowly unfolding disaster porn with a bit of foppish literary flair. As extrapolative science fiction, not so much.

The idea of the literally inhuman Technocore is initially interesting as the innermost layer of a civilizational onion using the Hegemony and its WorldWeb, which in turn have their uses for the periphery. The worldbuilding comes apart in Brawne Lamia’s story. It’s a genre pastiche like the rest, using futuristic technology to spice up a hard-boiled detective yarn. One such spice is explicitly termed Gibsonian: It’s William Gibson’s cyberspace, complete with black ice and “stimsim” in place of Gibson’s simstim. Like Gibson’s version, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I guess Simmons just took it because it was trendy. In the same story, the Technocore is revealed as obsessed with John Keats and divided into three factions with uniformly uninteresting political agendas.

Details aside, it is remarkable how conservative the overall vision is. Simmons acknowledges this as a dystopian feature rather than a bug: In his Canterbury Tale the Consul laments how the largest human faction lives in “derivative cultures, pale reflections of Old Earth life”. For example, there is an entire planet called Fuji, and it has bloody “samurai” battles. While apparently intended as a satire of commodification in capitalism, this is still distinctly cheesy. It is also imitative of The End of Eternity (1955), where hypertechnology is likewise used to stabilize human civilization by eliminating any perceived stumbling blocks, to a point beyond what is healthy.

References here: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010).

text fiction