Dan Simmons’ ‘Endymion’ – A Review

IX-dan-simmons-endymionFor some people Endymion is the weakest part of the entire Hyperion Cantos.  Those people are nuts.

Let me preface this review by pointing out that each of the four books in the series has a different feel to it.  The first novel, Hyperion, being partly inspired by The Canterbury Tales, is essentially episodic.  It’s sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, can be considered a political thriller with a bit of military sci-fi tossed in.  This third book in the series is undeniably a chase novel, and a hair-raising one at that . . .

Nearly three hundred years after the fall of the Hegemony of Man at the end of second novel, the Catholic Church, once on the verge of extinction, has now filled the void left by the Hegemony’s collapse, becoming the dominant governmental power in the galaxy, largely through its military wing, the Pax.  Meanwhile, a certain irascible poet by the name of Martin Silenus is still kicking around Hyperion, though barely, but he still has quite a lot of pull on the planet.  He manages to save Raul Endymion, a young man convicted of murdering a Catholic citizen (which Raul himself is not), from execution, and all he asks of Raul in return is the impossible.  Raul’s primary task is to escort Silenus’s 12-year-old niece Aenea to her destination across the galaxy.  The problem is, the all-powerful Church wants the girl for their own murky and sinister reasons.  As it so happens, Aenea is the daughter of another former Shrike pilgrim, Brawne Lamia, and her cybrid lover John Keats, and she is poised to become a powerful and transformative force in her own right, one who may threaten the very existence of the Church.  Of course, this being a Hyperion Cantos novel, nothing is quite what it seems.  Nevertheless, the Church will pursue Raul, Aenea and their android friend A. Bettik to the ends of the galaxy to capture the little girl.

The primary representative of the Church herein is one Father Captain Francisco de Soya, a devoted priest and soldier of the Pax who believes his mission to capture the girl is a righteous one but eventually comes to doubt whether she is the monster her superiors believe her to be.  Perhaps more than any other antagonist in the series, de Soya is a dynamic and three-dimensional character.  With any story which sets up a dystopian future where the bad guys are members of some massive ruling entity, it is easy for a writer to sketch them as malevolent, unnuanced caricatures, but Simmons largely manages to avoid this pitfall in Endymion.  Instead, we get well-trained, high-tech soldiers who are true believers, which, for my money, makes them even more frightening than if they were just mad finger-steepling scoundrels.  De Soya is the ultimate knight of the Church, a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.  But he is also a truly moral man, a fact that sometimes puts him at odds with the Church he serves, which has become rife with corruption.

And what of our three main protagonists?  Raul Endymion himself is a classic adventuring daredevil, the weary loner who becomes the reluctant hero–something of a cross between Han Solo and every action character ever played by Kurt Russell.  Sure, he’s a bit of a stereotype if you get right down to it, but he feels more like an homage to heroes past than just another generic lovable rogue.  Aenea is another kind of trope: a wonder child.  She’s a super-genius for starters, but she also has some powers which are initially ill-defined but take on greater significance as the story progresses.  Then we have A. Bettik, a blue-skinned android, a being genetically engineered to be much stronger and tougher to kill than a normal human.  If there is a character who could stand some fleshing out, it is A. Bettik, who is far too subservient (he was bred that way) and often seems to be there merely for the sake of his enhanced abilities rather than as a legit member of the team.  Early in the story there is also a sentient spaceship, but it’s hardly there long enough to make much of an impression.  Finally, there is our old friend the Shrike, who serves as Aenea’s bodyguard at times (much to her consternation, since the creature’s overriding philosophy seems to be: terminate with extreme prejudice) but mostly just watches from the sidelines.

Though the story zips along at a breakneck pace, Simmons still manages to work in scenes of humor and warmth, particularly near the beginning.  One of my favorite points in the book is when Aenea decides to use their spaceship’s advanced force field tech to create a zero-g ball of water that she and Raul use as a floating swimming pool, an early bonding moment for the two and a demonstration of the girl’s ingenuity and fearlessness in the face of danger.

As our plucky heroes make their way through a series of worlds by way of farcasters (which only seem to work for Aenea and her protectors now . . . there’s a reason for that), de Soya and his soldiers triangulate in on them as they race towards their destiny.  Yes, it’s a bracing adventure tale, but it’s more than that too.  As with the other books in this series, Simmons exploits the literary concepts that undergird his work–mainly the deus ex machina in this case–in exceedingly clever ways, giving it a tasty dash of postmodernism without letting it slip into pretentious territory.  As always, the author’s love for the literary medium itself, be it in the form of poetry or fiction, is the very soul of the Hyperion Cantos, and Endymion is no exception.  Given that one of the themes of the series is man’s place in the universe and how he holds up against much greater intelligences, some of whom believe mankind to be obsolete, it makes sense that our capacity to create art and literature is the very thing that redeems humanity, and which Simmons celebrates throughout the series both implicitly and explicitly in numerous ways.  What else can I really say?

Grade: A+ 

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