Endymion by Dan Simmons
There are no words that can truly express just how much I loved the first two novels of the Hyperion Cantos, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. The following two novels, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, set over 200 years later, have a much more mixed critical reception, so I was somewhat cautious when beginning this novel not to set my hopes too high. I wonder if the naysayers of Endymion were reading the same novel as me, because I read a work which comfortably lives up to the first two novels, standing alongside them as exemplary works of science fiction, which manages to craft a new and interesting tale whilst containing enough ties to the proceeding duology to reward fans of those earlier works.
Endymion picks up over 200 years after the collapse of the Farcaster interplanetary teleportation network and the subsequent fall of the Human Hegemony at the conclusion of The Fall of Hyperion. In the intervening years, the dominant power in the galaxy has become the ‘Pax’, a totalitarian Catholic Church which has won all support through its promise of a very real form of immortality. The Pax had discovered a way to give true immortality through the ‘cruciform’ parasite seen in Father Hoyt’s tale in Hyperion. Where those resurrected by the cruciform had once had their personalities wiped and become the sexless ‘Biruka’, the Pax have discovered a way to offer the resurrection and preserve the original mind of the deceased. Although they lack the power of the earlier teleporting Hegemony, the Pax still wield the most quick fleet in the galaxy, and have gained a foothold on most of the planets of the former Hegemony. Endymion shifts the focus away from the planet of Hyperion to a greater extent than either of its predecessors, primarily following a journey through former planets of the Hegemony, as we see the civilisations and circumstances following the ‘Fall.’ I was impressed by Simmons’ world building skills in the first two novels in the series, and the high standard continue here.
Endymion, like Hyperion and The Rise of Hyperion, takes place within a framed narrative. The Consul of Hyperion and the John Keats cybrid of The Fall of Hyperion are long gone, so this time the narrative duties fall to the eponymous Raul Endymion. Raul is being held in a bizarre Schrödinger’s prison, whereby cyanide can be released into his cell at any random point in a quantum physics experiment. Raul had once been the closest companion of a Messianic young woman known as Aenea, and has decided to record his life story. Aenea is the daughter of Brawne Lamia, the Hyperion pilgrim, and the cybrid John Keats, and is much feared by the Pax. Raul is recruited by Martin Silenius, the only surviving pilgrim, to protect Aenea and help her to fulfil her destiny by bringing her on an epic journey through the galaxy. Endymion deals with the story of Aenea as a child, with The Rise of Endymion concerned with Aenea as an adult and Raul as a constant observer. Raul and Aenea are joined on their journey by A. Bettik, an android first encountered briefly by the pilgrims in Hyperion. We are also privy to the parallel tale of the interesting Father Captain de Soya, a figure who is part military commander and part priest, sent by the Pax to capture Aenea and bring her to their planet of Pacem. How Raul knows de Soya’s story, complete with his internal thoughts, is not made clear, but interestingly Raul does hint that an explanation does exist, and hopefully this will be explained in The Rise of Endymion.
Simmons really does seem to be the master of the frame narrative; I’ve never seen another author excel so much in its use. The nature of the narrative itself is highly mysterious, and Raul makes a compelling narrator. The novel mainly follows the mysterious journey of Raul, Aenea and A. Bettik through the previously inert farcaster portals, which only Aenea and her group can traverse, and the desperate attempts of de Soya to capture them. The regular shifting between Raul and de Soya is actually really interesting; I never felt annoyed to be dragged out away from the central story of Raul and Aenea, which could easily have happened. The differing perceptions of the same events are really interesting to read, and help to humanise the Pax, holding them back from becoming pantomime villains. Endymion doesn’t make the same slight mistake of Hyperion of containing almost no resolution of its own; the novel has a distinct arc, with lots left for the sequel naturally, but with the central plot strand of Raul and Aenea’s journey completed by the novel’s end. Simmons manages to keep the novel satisfying in itself, whilst leaving enough to make The Rise of Endymion interesting.
Simmons cuts down on the intertextuality in this novel; while I really loved that element of Hyperion and The Rise of Hyperion, it could be a bit daunting, and this novel actually works well for narrowing its focus to John Keats (Endymion is a Keats poem, as Hyperion was before it.) Simmons is at his best in the quiet moments, with the action scenes never shining quite so brightly. Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes are much more readable than those of Iain M. Banks, and some are genuinely incredibly tense and thrilling, but my favourite moments where as Raul and Aenea talked and grew together during their journey. The novel takes place on a wide range of very different locations, from the desert of the Jewish planet of Hebron to the barely habitable icy planet of Sol Draconi Septim, and each feels incredibly vivid and distinct. Simmons is great at creating a very strong sense of place very quickly. It’s actually difficult to assess Simmons’ because of just how good it is; it all just works so well.
I’m tempted to call the characterisation in Endymion Simmon’s best effort so far. Although there is no character who fascinates me quite so much as Meina Gladstone, the final CEO of the Human Hegemony, the general depth of these characters is so more impressive. Raul is a great protagonist, certainly the best narrator of the series so far, and Aenea is utterly charming and oddly tragic. A Bettik reminded me of Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw ( I suspect that this was intentional) and that is far from a bad thing! By far the most interesting character of the novel is Father Captain de Soya, a decent man trapped within an utterly corrupt organisation. I’ll confess to being a complete sucker for this sort of story arc, and Simmons certainly scratches that itch.
Endymion has probably the most traditional narrative of the series so far, but it nonetheless shows all of the innovation which made Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion so great. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers who claim it doesn’t live up to its illustrious predecessors; it’s a fantastic read and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into The Rise of Endymion.