Bantam Spectra, 1997, 579 pages, C$32.95 hc, ISBN 0-553-10652-X
There’s SF and then there’s SF.
The difference between the two, as the saying goes, is unquantifiable yet evident. The difference between the average SF novel and the Hyperion series is similarly hard to isolate, yet there is no doubt that it is there.
The Rise of Endymion is the fourth -and last, we’re told- volume of the enormously popular “Hyperion” series, by Dan Simmons. Since the first two volumes came out in 1989 and 1990, most serious SF fans have since read the two first volumes of the series. The Hyperion Cantos (Simmon’s name for the first two books) delighted jaded and newer readers alike with a complex story that seemingly used almost every Science-Fiction device in existence. The style was marvelous, the ending was apocalyptic and the ensemble was simply awe-inspiring.
Endymion fast-forwarded a few centuries after, and posited an empire built by a Christian Church with the literal power of resurrection. But most of the novel’s 500-odd pages was about an extended chase between the Church and a trio composed of a young girl, a blue android and a wholly average man called Raul Endymion.
At the beginning of the fourth volume, events conspire to bring the young girl, now destined for messiah-status, out of hiding and in direct combat against the Church. More adventures, more revelations, more ends of empires ensue. Characters meet fates that are mostly tragic.
The Rise of Endymion has the merit of not only being a good book in itself, but also of enhancing its prequel. Whereas Endymion seemed to go nowhere slowly, The Rise of Endymion finally delivers the payoffs of all setups. Enigmas held mysterious ever since the first volume (the identity of the Shrike, the role of the cruciforms) are explained, and the seemingly senseless travelogue of book three now makes more sense. (It’s still too long, but that’s a flaw shared by this book too.)
Simmons weaves into his tale a great many thoughts about information ages, religion, sentience, poetry and theo/philosophy. Yet, surprisingly, this space-opera is not harmed by such statements as “love is one of the universe’s major forces” and a ritual of blood-drinking that’s part salvation, part bizarrely Christian. These musings go on for pages at a time; whether or not you’ll find them interesting is up to personal preference. As a heroine, Aenea is a bit of a cypher… but that’s completely intentional.
There are also a few inconsistencies, much of them due to the inherent nature of A> time travel, B> the gift of prophecy or C> antagonists set up as all-powerful but ending up being fought with bare hands.
Old friends of the Hyperion saga make their final (sometime surprising) appearances. The role of Colonel Kassad and Rachel Weintraub, in particular, are quite unexpected, but still logical. No long-standing fan of the series should be disappointed by the pilgrims’ final fates.
Ultimately, though, it’s not the galaxy-spanning tale of corrupt religion and messianic fate that holds The Rise of Endymion together: It’s the love story between Aenea and Raul Endymion. In a genre where romance is so shoddily treated, it’s nice (yes, nice) to find at least one example of solid SF married to solid romance. It does takes a while to begin, and a further while to be believable, but the payoff is one of the most gripping conclusion in recent memory.
The characters are great (all of them), the prose is superb (truly some of the best in the genre) and this novel has the unusual quality of making you feel in addition of making you think. For this, and more, The Rise of Endymion isn’t only good, but great. Read it and weep.
[April 1998: Rise of Endymion is nominated for the 1998 Hugo Awards.] [September 1998:…but doesn’t win.]