This first novel of four in the Hyperion Cantos should be required reading for all SF readers.
The novel is set on Hyperion, a relative backwater planet in the Hegemony of Man. People within the Hegemony can farcast instantaneously from one planet to another, no matter how far away. Not all planets are hooked up to the farcast network, either through economic disability, lack of interest, etc. Hyperion is one of those planets.
The Hegemony is a sprawled over thousand of planets, still expanding and wanting to incorporate desired worlds militarily. The Hegemony is constantly under attack by the Ousters, a group that rejects the Hegemony government and its supposedly democratic All Thing forum. The democracy is also advised by Technocore and a senate.
Technicore has information about a series of tombs, pyramids and mausoleums that seem to have been sent back in time from the future to a site on Hyperion. The time-displacements at the semi-archeological site are baffling and terrifying. The Shrike, an extreme creature of unknown origin, covered in silver metal crescent blades, guards the tombs.
The main story is similar in structure to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Six travellers, unknown to each other, come together to travel overland to the tombs; the rumour is that The Shrike will kill everyone who makes the pilgrimage, except one. And that one will be granted a wish.
The pilgrims take it in turns to tell their story to their fellows. Each story is brilliantly conceived and unrelated to the other’s. From the first, The Priest’s Tale, we are thrust into a mind-boggling religious narrative that I still think is one of Dan Simmons best. Of all the books he has written and I’ve read, The Priest’s Tale still sticks vividly into my mind. That’s not to say the other pilgrim’s tales aren’t as good, because they all are inventive and compelling.
The pilgrimage is sometimes easy – sailing across a sea of grass in an automated ship – and sometimes dangerous. All through the journey, especially as they near their goal, the pilgrims are shadowed by The Shrike: terrifying and antagonistic at times, and at others, just observing.
Because the story continues into The Fall Of Hyperion, there is plenty of scope for the characters to play out their narratives.
The book was published in 1989, and I read it 20 years ago. I’m writing this from my memory of the novel, so please forgive me if I’ve misremembered. It’s a striking SF book from the start, to the finish, when you’ll need to procure The Fall Of Hyperion. Hyperion will always remain one of my favourite SF books.