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(3.5 stars) I think there was some Star Trek episode in which characters from a fictional work were brought to life by advanced technology and wrought havoc, until Kirk remembered his classics. This novel is that idea on steroids. We get Shakespeare and Proust-quoting robots from the moons of Jupiter, and classical Greek gods who dwell on Mount Olympus -- on Mars -- and use nanotechnology and quantum doodads to intervene in a parallel universe in which the events of The Iliad are taking place, almost exactly as Homer described them.
Dan Simmons set a high bar with Hyperion, which remains one of my favorite science fiction novels (I’m less enthusiastic about its followups). That book proved that space opera can play games with literary intertextuality, and it also had a great universe and some page-turning mysteries. So I was half skeptical, half optimistic about this one.
I’ll give Simmons credit for having the skill to suck me into the story, in spite of my skepticism. The Iliad storyline, in which a 20th century Homeric scholar named Thomas Hockenberry was somehow resurrected by the gods to be an expert observer of the Trojan War (which only Zeus can foresee the outcome of), seemed well-researched and was a lot of fun, though it was helpful that I had recently read a translation of the Iliad. Hockenberry, ever the jaded academic, manages to manipulate the poem’s characters, who stay in character, towards breaking free of their prescribed fates.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, where about two thousand years have gone by since our time, a small population of “old-style” humans lives lives of leisure and ignorance, cared for by machines that post-humans left behind when they departed centuries ago. A group of these humans has begun to suspect that things have not always been this way, and embark on a hunt for answers on a planet that’s changed quite a bit since our time. With a little help from their new friend, Odysseus. The third thread concerns two moravecs from Jupiter, where their kind has evolved over the centuries, who crash-land on a now-terraformed Mars, and soon discover that knowledge of Shakespeare (not to mention Proust’s thoughts on the strangeness of time) might apply to their situation.
In terms of writing, I thought this one was only sometimes up the dark brilliance of Hyperion, but still a good ride. Simmons is at his best when he’s immersing the reader in a scene (as he does fantastically in some of the Troy sequences) or doing clever mashups (as with a creepy space station monster who speaks in Shakespeare mode), and less so when he’s going through the workmanlike process of having characters run or teleport around the map in order to connect pieces of his far-flung plot and themes (look for the annoying SF trope of invoking “quantum” to explain the essentially magical). How Simmons will pull everything together in the second, final book remains for me to see, but I find the ideas he seems to be going for interesting. Might old myths and legends, which have stayed in our collective memory so far, still be haunting us in whatever post-human, post-post-modern future is to come? "We're not fighters", says one character. "Oh, yes you are," replies another, "it's still in your genes". I also liked the little in-jokes, such as a scene in which Hockenberry, annoyed with how his PC fellow academics kept reading gay tendencies into certain Iliad characters, discovers that the truth is a little... ambiguous.
Audiobook narrator Kevin Pariseau is competent enough, but I think he does better at humor than drama. His wry Hockenberry is amusing, but his gods and heroes are a little lacking in gravitas.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful
I have read several books by Dan Simmons. Terror was probably my favorite. In all his books with the exception of Hyperion, I believe he writes too much in detail and takes too long to tell the story. (THE VOYNIX TROTTED EFFORTLESSLY, PULLING THE CARRIOLE WITH ONLY THE GRAVEL-HISS UNDERPED AND THE SOFT HUMMING OF ANCIENT GYROSCOPES IN THE CARRIAGE BODY. SHADOWS CREPT ACROSS THE VALLEY, BUT THE NARROW LANE WENT UP OVER A RIDGE, CAUGHT THE LAST BIT OF THE SUN-BISECTED AS IT WAS ON THE NEXT RIDGE WEST--AND THEN DESCENDED INTO A WIDER VALLEY WHERE FIELDS OF SOME LOW CROP STRETCHED OUT ON EITHER SIDE. THE TENDING SERVITORS FLITTED ABOVE THE FIELD, DAEMAN THOUGHT, LIKE SO MANY LEVITATING CROQUET BALLS.) For me I could do with out knowing every left and right hand turn his characters take and he does this in all his books. Simmons has his own following. I have a friend that reads everything the guy writes. If the story is good I can put up with the mundane directions, but this book I just could not get into. I quit in the seventh chapter. I am not going to listened to no boring book.
26 of 32 people found this review helpful
The book is brilliant. Unfortunately the narration is just dull, uninterested and soporific. What a disappointment!
Great story and a great performance. Simmons weaves such varied material together in a way that simply works! Ancient Greece and future Sci fi! I don't know how it works but Simmons manages it! Highly recommended!