The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
Well, great, now I’m an emotional wreck. Thanks Dan Simmons. Why did your conclusion to the almost flawless Hyperion Cantos have to be so profound and moving? Endings are hard, and I’ve experienced none which are an unqualified success. Well, until The Rise of Endymion that is.
The Rise of Endymion picks up where Endymion left off, with Raul and Aenea sojourning on Old Earth as Aenea learns architecture from a cybrid replicant of Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years later, Aenea and Raul must leave, continuing their journey to undermine the Pax, as we follow Raul in Aenea’s wake, as she reveals to humanity the degradation of the cruciform, the truth behind the Void -which-binds and the origins of the Shrike. As well as the continuing adventures of Raul and Aenea, we also receive several POV story lines from senior members of the Pax, including the return of Father Captain de Soya , as the Pope, a corrupted former Hyperion pilgrim Lenar Hoyt, launches a holy crusade against the Ousters, all whilst the AI TechnoCore lurks in the background.
The Rise of Endymion is less focused upon a heroic journey/adventure structure than its predecessor was, but still brings us to a wide range of locations within Simmons’ well drawn universe, including some incredibly striking locales. If there is one fundamental message to The Rise of Endymion, it’s that homogeneity is always less favourable than variety, perhaps a direct challenge to the monolithic cultures which often feature in classic science fiction (Iain M. Banks is good at avoiding this too.) We encounter a variety of fascinating and beautiful cultures in this novel, often rather bizarre yet unrecognisably human, on planets beautifully depicted , which only makes the repellence of the oppressive Catholic Pax all the more sickening.
The Hyperion Cantos has tended to have a fairly tight structure, not quite as sprawling as other science fiction works, but benefiting from a clarity of focus which Iain M. Banks could learn from. The Rise of Endymion is possibly the most uneven novel in the series, and for the first time in the series I felt that there were elements which were slightly overplayed. The variety of Pax figures we gain insights into feels a bit much, and I found myself missing the tight opposition of Raul and Father Captain de Soya of Endymion, as each chapter alternated between them, often offering different, yet nonetheless fascinating, perspectives on the same events. That said, The Rise of Endymion only feels flabby when held against the other novels in the Hyperion Cantos, and still stands as an absolutely superlative example of the genre, with pacing kept at a good rate throughout. This is a highly satisfying conclusions; Simmons doesn’t hold off on giving answers for the sake of a false ‘ambiguity’, a flaw which underpins almost all of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s work, offering satisfying conclusions to the narratives of almost all of the key players in the Hyperion Cantos, and delving into the truly vast metanarrative of the TechoCore, the alien intelligences known as ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears’, and the grand future war between the AI Ultimate Intelligence and the human generated Empathic Intelligence which opposes it. The scale which Simmons engages with is breathtaking, with these grand ideas and concepts always feeling relatable to the human characters they indirectly affect.
A pleasant surprise in this novel is how much it made me laugh. Raul’s position primarily as an observer allows an entertainingly wry perspective on events, in particular during a conversation with an earnest young priest which absolutely cracked me up. Where Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion held a palpable sense of menace and tension throughout, crafting striking imagery, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion are more beautiful than menacing. Simmons’s gorgeous descriptive powers provide some highly evocative writing, creating incredibly vivid images of these wonderful places in the mind. Simmons handles the emotional stuff exceptionally well; this novel is, at times, incredibly moving, as much as Sol Weintraub’s story in Hyperion, with Simmons knowing exactly how to tug at the heart strings without resorting to mawkish sentimentality.
The Rise of Endymion does a great job of giving all of the little character moments needed when closing out a series like this. Rather than just focus upon Raul and Aenea, we gain plenty of wonderful moments for great characters such as Father Captain de Soya. The welcome return of many characters from the earlier novels, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion is extremely welcome, even if they are somewhat fleeting. The cast blossoms perhaps too much in this novel, with an extended sojourn in the Buddhist influenced T’ien Shan picking up a whole bunch of new characters, some of which are vivid and strong, such as the Dorje Pamo, known as the ‘Thunder Sow’, the female head of an all male monastery, and the brilliant young Dalai Lama, but not all fare so well. We are introduced to a dazzling number of new characters, and it’s difficult to gain and real investment in them, and I found myself eager to return to the established characters from earlier in the series. That said, the characterisation is nonetheless top notch, and I can honestly say that I’m going to miss Raul, Aenea and Father Captain de Soya a lot. These are characters who could easily have been one note, but Simmons offers them surprising and rewarding depths.
The Rise of Endymion is an excellent conclusion to an excellent series. I’m somewhat prone to superlatives, and they’re something I try to avoid in my writing, but I honestly cannot think of a science fiction series which I have enjoyed as much as the ‘Hyperion Cantos.’ Although there was a clear attempt at the opening of Endymion to position this work as more of a spin off than a full blown sequel to the earlier novels, The Rise of Endymion abandons this, and to the absolute benefit of the series. Everything hangs together very coherently, and although it’s clear that Simmons is retconning in the way he handles certain potential plot holes, it’s all to the benefit of holding the Cantos together. If you read the earlier parts of the Cantos, and wonder if Endymion and The Rise of Endymion are worthy successors, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.