day 12 of my 31 Monsters of October marathon. I recently finished Hyperion, which made up the first half of Hyperion Cantos; the long out of print combination of Hyperion and its immediate sequel The Fall of Hyperion that I found at the used book store for less than $10. These books are the first two of a four book saga.
Seven hundred years in the future mankind is dispersed throughout the galaxy. Old Earth is long gone, the victim of an unfortunate incident involving a miniature black hole. The core of the Hegemony, the government of most of humanity, consists of the WorldWeb; planets that are connected by instantaneous transportation devices called farcasters. Planets that are not yet connected by farcasters must be reached by starship. Although most starships are equipped with faster-than-light Hawking drives, travel between the stars still requires a significant amount of time.
The story centers around the colonial planet of Hyperion; a backwater world outside of the WorldWeb. The planet is well known for the mysterious "Time Tombs" that are surrounded by an anti-entropic force field (which actually causes the Time Tombs to move backward through time) and the creature known as the Shrike. The Shrike is a horrifying four-armed monstrosity that has glowing crystalline eyes and is covered in metallic blades and thorns. The Shrike has been limited to the area immediately around the Time Tombs for centuries but has recently begun to range farther and farther from them. The creature is worshiped by the powerful Church of the Shrike, which believes that the Shrike will be instrumental in the end of mankind. Until recently the Church had sponsored pilgrimages to the Time Tombs. Many of these pilgrimages ended without any survivors.
In addition to the Shrike, the Hegemony now finds itself threatened by the Ousters; a lost branch of mankind. As humanity left the doomed Earth for other inhabitable worlds, the Ousters decided to cut all ties with the rest of humanity and to dwell between the stars in vast fleets. With the Ousters moving against Hyperion, and with the Shrike's newfound mobility indicating that it may finally begin the Apocalypse, the pilgrimage that comprises most of the book may very well be the last.
Unlike prior pilgrimages, none of the current group of seven pilgrims is a member of the Shrike Church, although all have some connection to Hyperion or to the Shrike. Like the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, each pilgrim tells his or her story. The stories are what make Hyperion really interesting. Some are told in the first person while others are told in the third person. One is told as a series of journal entries while another is told according to a person's stream of consciousness. Some of the stories are filled with action, a couple are more horrific, and a couple are heartbreaking. The stories build on each other, gradually revealing more and more about the nature of the Hegemony and about the role of Hyperion and the Shrike in the fate of humanity. Additionally, the motive and character of each pilgrim is exposed as his or her story is told. The reader eventually sympathizes with characters that were initially unlikeable.
The story is grand in its scope and Simmons' worldbuilding is some of the best I've encountered. To top it off, Simmons doesn't forget to give the reader a cast of interesting, fully fleshed out people. I've read too many science fiction novels written by authors that were so fascinated by the fictional worlds they created that they forgot to give us a plot or characters that we'll care about (e.g., Greg Bear's Eon).
I only have two complaints. First, there are a few characters that regularly employ fairly strong language. Although this is how some people are in reality (and I often work with people who swear just as frequently), it was still enough to bother me. Fortunately the whole book isn't laced with obscenities since Simmons uses this as a particular character trait. Second, the book contains a significant amount of sexuality that is described with a bit too much detail for my comfort. Although I wholeheartedly recommend this book to readers of science fiction, I can only recommend this book to mature adults who are not easily offended.