I read and loved Dan Simmons’ Hyperion a while back, and between then and now read Fall of Hyperion. As I had feared, a large part of my love for Hyperion rested in its nested story structure. Fall was a very good example of space opera, but its more conventional linear narrative meant that it didn’t strike me in the same way as Hyperion had. Fall has a complex plot involving all of the character from the first book plus several more — most notably a reincarnation of John Keats. Time travel and political intrigue abound, we learn more about the machinations of the AI core, and the book ends on a hopeful note after a seemingly decisive strike against the core.
Endymion is set several centuries after Fall. The cruciforms that made Father Duré immortal have been taken by the Catholic Church (a minor cult during the earlier books) and distributed to people on condition that they convert to Catholicism. The lure of immortality proves too strong for most (though we get intriguing glimpses of some [including a planet of Muslims and another of Jews] who resist), and soon the Church is the most powerful organisation in the galaxy. The far-caster enabled Hegemony of the first two books is replaced by a Catholicism-dominated union of worlds called the Pax, linked by (relatively slow) faster than light interstellar travel. The Pax wages terrible war against the post-human Ousters.
The narrator is Raul Endymion, who is contracted to accompany and protect Aenea, daughter of two characters from the previous book. Aenea, gifted with tremendous (but as yet undeveloped) power, was born in the far-flung future and is destined to bring peace to the galaxy. Endymion is joined in this task by an android called Bettik. Aenea is pursued by the likeable Father-Captain de Soya — an agent of the Church. Chapters alternate between focusing on Raul (first-person), and de Soya (third-person). In this way we get to see the chase from the perspective of both the hunter and the hunted. Raul, Aenea, and Bettik flee from one colourful planet (and one unlikely escape) to another, constantly just out of de Soya’s grasp.
And that’s basically the whole book. There’s some good character development (especially for de Soya) and the AI core (which turns out not to be as destroyed as one might have thought) does some top-notch intervening. Mostly, though, it’s just travelling, without the satisfaction of destination (for which, presumably, we must wait for the last installment in the tetralogy — Rise of Endymion).
That said, there are some exciting and highly kinetic fight scenes. Simmons does an amazing job of describing what might happen in a fight when one or more participants can move thousands of times faster than their surroundings. It was fun to see the Shrike — omnipotent menace of the first two books — being pwned by a bad-ass core assassin. I also really like the use of cruciforms to allow much faster faster-than-light travel. Conventional ships keep speeds below a certain limit at which the human body would simply break down into mush. Using cruciforms, travellers going faster than this can be crushed into a scraping of organic paste, then resurrected when they arrive at their destination. Gross, but cool.
So, I found the structure a little unsatisfying (though it’s really only half a story so I can forgive it that), and I had a bit of a hard time with the “saviour” aspect of Aenea. On the other hand, the characterisation is good, the universe is excellent, and the cool things are very cool. Roll on Rise of Endymion.