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Hyperion (Simmons novel)

Hyperion is a Hugo Award-winning 1989 science fiction novel by American writer Dan Simmons. It is the first book of his Hyperion Cantos. The plot of the novel features multiple time-lines and characters. It follows a similar structure to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. This book is succeeded by the 1990 science fiction novel The Fall of Hyperion by the same writer.

Plot summary


In the 28th century, humanity has spread across the galaxy, first aboard "Hawking drive" ships and then through "farcasters", which permit nearly instantaneous travel regardless of distance. However, many planets are of little economic interest and disconnected from the farcasters. These planets can only be reached by spaceship, resulting in time dilation effects which cause "time debt" accruals.

The farcaster network (the "WorldWeb") is the infrastructural and economical basis of the Hegemony of Man and thus determines the whole culture and society. Also flowing across these portals are the structures of the datasphere (a network reminiscent of the Internet in design, but far more advanced). Inseparable from mankind's technologies is the powerful, knowledgeable, and utterly inscrutable TechnoCore, the vast agglomeration of millions of AIs who run almost every piece of high technology of mankind. The unthinking hubris of man resulted in the death of the home-world (Earth)—which was consumed by an artificial black hole running out of control—and this arrogant philosophy was carried forth to the stars, for centuries.

The Hegemony itself is a largely decadent society, relying on its military to incorporate into the WorldWeb the colony planets, even unwillingly, and to defend the Hegemony from attacks by the Ousters, "interstellar barbarians" who dwell free of and beyond the bounds of the Hegemony and shun all the works of the TechnoCore (especially farcasters). Ostensibly a direct democracy governed through the "All Thing" forum, the Hegemony is also managed by a chief executive officer advised by the TechnoCore advisory council and the Hegemony Senate.

All the 'Core's advice and predictions are confounded by mysterious structures on the remote colony world Hyperion (named after the moon of Saturn) that are commonly regarded as the Time Tombs. The tombs are encased in an anti-entropic field that is theorised to be carrying them backwards in time (suggesting that the tombs were built in the distant future for some unknown purpose) and are said to be guarded by a legendary time travelling creature known as the Shrike. The Shrike is the subject of a cult, the Church of the Final Atonement, commonly known as the Shrike Church. Occasionally the church sends a prime number of pilgrims to the Time Tombs; there is a legend that all but one are slaughtered and the remaining pilgrim is granted a wish.

The Ousters have been long obsessed with Hyperion, and on the eve of their invasion and a probable war, a final pilgrimage has been organised. Seven pilgrims have been carefully selected by unseen elements of the TechnoCore to make the journey to the Time Tombs and the Shrike, with the objective of aiding the Hegemony in the imminent war. Aboard a treeship the pilgrims finally meet after being revived out of their cryogenic storage state; and, collectively overwhelmed by the mystery and magnitude of their situation, they decide that they will each tell their tale to enliven the long trip to the Tombs, to get to know each other, and to make sense of their situation. Simmons uses this device to unfold the panorama of this universe, its history and conflicts, and each story gives a greater context to the others. The story opens in medias res with the Consul recalled to the WorldWeb and the seven pilgrims (the infant Rachel does not count) drawing lots to see who will tell their tale first in the hopes of revealing a reason they were chosen and how to survive.

Part One, The Priest's Tale: "The Man who Cried God"

"The Priest's Tale" starts shortly after being awakened from "fugue" on an expensive and rare Templar Tree-Ship. It describes the stories of Father Paul Duré and Father Lenar Hoyt, two of only several thousand remaining members of the Roman Catholic Church. As a younger man, Father Lenar Hoyt is assigned to escort the Teilhardian-inclined Jesuit Father Paul Duré, a theologian, archaeologist and ethnologist, into exile. The aging Duré, in disgrace for fabricating archaeological discoveries, has chosen Hyperion as a suitable location on which to complete his exile. He reveals to Hoyt that he plans to travel to an isolated region along Hyperion's Cleft, where rumors and centuries-old accounts place the legendary Bikura civilization, in order to establish an ethnological research station among them.

Father Duré travels to the continent of Aquila, where the Cleft is located. He reaches Perecebo Plantation and is given a guide named Tuk. Duré and Tuk venture into the "flame forest" where electrical tesla trees are found. Traveling during the forest's inactive season, they manage to make it through unharmed and reach the Cleft.

Shortly thereafter, Tuk is murdered and Duré stumbles into the nearby Bikura village. The Bikura are an unintelligent people, incapable of grasping most concepts but who believe Duré is "of the cross" (due to his wearing a crucifix) but not "of the cruciform". After many weeks, Duré steals into their sacred cavern and discovers a finely wrought cross-shaped artwork that predates human spaceflight by millennia. He deduces that they are survivors from a seedship crash centuries earlier who have been infected with cross-shaped organisms called cruciforms that integrate themselves into their host. After death, the cruciform rebuilds the physical body and resurrects them. The price of immortality is that resurrection information is lost, and over time they become unintelligent and androgynous, losing all distinguishing features. When he is seen topless while bathing the Bikura discover he has no cruciform on him. Debating killing him they instead lead him into Hyperion's labyrinth system where he encounters the Shrike and is unknowingly infected with a cruciform.

After discovering the truth, Duré attempted to cut the cruciform out of his body but failed. Next he attempted to flee the village but after traveling only a few kilometers from the village the cruciform inflicted extreme pain to keep him near. Father Hoyt, immediately sets to return to Hyperion, having experienced only a few weeks of travel in his reference frame, but his "time debt" means seven years have passed and he finds Father Duré's remains there, burnt and decomposing in the flame forest. Hoyt tells the other pilgrims that some of his guides on that expedition died by accident and the rest nuked the village and the story ends.

When the time comes to leave the treeship Hoyt is late. The consul finds him in his stateroom in immense pain, his "ultra-morphine" auto-injector having failed. The consul promises to assist Hoyt in return for hearing the true story. Hoyt reveals in a final desperate act, Duré crucified himself to a tesla tree with his journal wrapped in flame proof cloth. For seven years, Father Duré had been continually electrocuted and resurrected by the cruciform, never allowed to die. As Hoyt touches it, the cruciform falls from Duré's body and this allows him to finally die the "true death" and be at peace. Also revealing that his guides did not die by accident they were actually murdered by the Bikura and Hoyt was spared as, like Duré, he wore a crucifix. In retaliation the entire Bikura village was destroyed with shaped nuke charges but not before Hoyt is fitted with both a cruciform of his own and also with the cruciform that was implanted into Duré.

Part Two, The Soldier's Tale: "The War Lovers"

Having arrived on Hyperion, Colonel Fedmahn Kassad's tale begins with a flashback to his days training in the FORCE (the general name for the Hegemony's military) academy on Mars, when he was immersed in a training simulation of the 15th century Battle of Agincourt. During the battle, a mysterious soldier from "outside" saves Kassad from a French knight and becomes his lover. Kassad and his mystery savior meet repeatedly in further simulations until Kassad's final year in the Academy. After Kassad graduates from the Academy, the young Martian man becomes a FORCE officer.

Over his military career, Kassad earns a reputation for bloodlust, and after a brutal conflict with Ousters on the system Bressia, gains the nickname "the Butcher of South Bressia". After the conflict, Kassad is grievously wounded by a leftover boobytrap and is placed on a Hegemony medical ship, which is attacked by Ousters. After a fight with the Ousters, Kassad hijacks an Ouster shuttle and crashes it onto a planet he learns to be Hyperion. There he is reunited with his lover, who introduces herself for the first time as Moneta. Kassad briefly witnesses the Tree of Pain, a gigantic steel tree where the Shrike has impaled its victims, as it phases in and out of existence. Moneta then introduces him to the Shrike, and the two teach him to use time slowing abilities in combat. The three are attacked by an Ouster landing party, but with the use of these abilities Kassad and the Shrike mercilessly slaughter their attackers. Overcome with bloodlust, Kassad begins making love with Moneta amongst the corpses of his victims. Upon climax, Kassad suddenly realizes that Moneta and the Shrike have been manipulating him and wish to use him to spark an interstellar war in which billions of people will die. At this moment, Moneta undergoes a horrific transformation into the Shrike and Kassad flees. After Kassad is rescued and returned to the WorldWeb, he resigns from FORCE and becomes an anti-war activist. His purpose on the travelers' pilgrimage is to track down and kill Moneta / the Shrike.

After Kassad has finished telling the story, the Consul explains that because the Tree of Pain is moving backwards in time, Kassad may have seen victims on it that would be put on it in the future, and suggests that it is possible that he saw one or more of the pilgrims on the tree. When queried, Kassad reveals he saw one of the pilgrims on the tree, but refuses to disclose which pilgrim it was.

Part Three, The Poet's Tale: "Hyperion Cantos"

On board a giant manta-drawn riverboat manned by androids, Martin Silenus tells his tale. He was born as a wealthy scion of an ancient dying North American house, growing up in the time around the "Big Mistake", which led to the destruction of Earth. Silenus trained as a poet, but his training was interrupted when the Kiev Team's black hole "ate" the Earth; his mother dispatched her son aboard a slower-than-light flight to a nearby system, calculating that the shrunken family fortune would accumulate enough in compound interest over the century the voyage would take that the family's debt would be paid off and enough would be left over for Martin to live on for a time.

Unfortunately, the accounts were nationalized by the Hegemony, and Silenus suffered brain damage during the voyage. Deep in penury, Silenus had to work as a common laborer. The back-breaking toil forces Silenus's mind to flee to higher planes, and as he recovers his use of language, he starts work on his Hyperion Cantos, a work he began as a parody of John Keats' famous poem, but which evolved into a dual account of Silenus's life and an epic account of the Titanomachia, in which the Hegemony of Man takes the part of the Titans and the TechnoCore the Olympians. His Dying Earth (as it is called, in an explicit reference to Jack Vance's Dying Earth series) becomes an enormous hit, selling billions and making him a multi-millionaire.

Eventually he falls into debt again (due to divorce and the extreme cost of maintaining a house whose rooms are located on over thirty separate planets and connected by continually active, expensive to operate farcaster portals) and in an attempt to produce another hit has a larger unabridged version of his cantos published, which is predicted to fail by his publisher. The work is a terrible flop, selling few copies and not recouping the money he was advanced. In order to pay his debt, Silenus is forced to produce further hackwork for his "Dying Earth" series, a misery many artists face. One day he realizes that his Cantos, his greatest work, has not been added to for years; his muse had fled. Silenus leaves his lifestyle, liquidates his assets, and signs on with Sad King Billy.

Billy is an aristocrat of the planet Asquith, descended from the House of Windsor, and an intelligent and sensitive lover and critic of the arts. Fearful of the FORCE General Horace Glennon-Height's rebellion against the Hegemony, Billy decides to relocate to Hyperion and create a new Renaissance by establishing a kingdom of artists. He chooses for his capital a location near the Time Tombs on the then-even less inhabited Hyperion, reasoning that their presence will give the proper ambience for the creation of great art.

For ten years, all goes well until people begin vanishing, with no abductors ever seen. At the same time, Silenus' muse returns, and he continues work on the Cantos. Soon, the culprit is discovered to be the Shrike. At this time, Silenus becomes convinced that it is the Shrike who is his muse, who, in some occult way, his poem had brought into existence. The murders continue until only Silenus is left living in the City of Poets. He writes the last line on the day that the last murder occurs.

One day, Sad King Billy returns to the deserted city. Martin is gone on a trip to the Time Tombs seeking the Shrike, and when he returns to his quarters Billy confronts him with the fact that his writing is dependent on cold-blooded murder, and that it will need more murders if it is to ever be completed. Billy burns his manuscript. After Billy is taken away by the Shrike, Silenus recopies his poem as well as possible. Eventually he leaves Hyperion. In the centuries since, reliant on life-extending treatments, he has been waiting to return to Hyperion to finish the poem.

Part Four, The Scholar's Tale: "The River Lethe's Taste is Bitter"

(This is told on an uncrewed, wind-powered landship.) Sol Weintraub, a Jewish academic, had been a professor of ethics on Barnard's World, the second colony founded from Old Earth. He and his wife, Sarai, had been happy when their only daughter, Rachel, was born forty years ago. She eventually became an archaeologist, and while in her post-graduate studies went on an expedition to study the Time Tombs of Hyperion regarding the Shrike as a myth (the Shrike not yet having become active again).

While mapping the so-called Sphinx for hidden passages or rooms, something happens to Rachel: all the instruments and equipment fail, and the Shrike appears in the Sphinx amidst a massive surge of "anti-entropic fields". Rachel is returned to the WorldWeb where her parents learn of the novel disease she has contracted, dubbed the "Merlin sickness" (after T.H. White's The Once and Future King), in which every time Rachel goes to sleep, she ages backwards two days (for a net loss of one day per day), losing her memories and in fact physically becoming younger; there is no sign that the condition will reverse itself when she ages backwards to her birth. (However, she still needs to eat and breathe normally, she talks and acts normally while awake, and bruises from medical procedures one day are still present the next.) Rachel's life is shattered by her retrogression, slowly destroying her links with the present; her parents devote their lives to caring for Rachel and trying to cure her. A visit to the Shrike Temple on Lusus sees the bishop there cast out Sol, claiming Rachel doesn't need to be cured when she is the most blessed and cursed human in all of existence. After more than a decade of illness her story is picked up by the news media and Hyperion becomes a tourist destination. Meanwhile, Sol wrestles for years with his dreams in which he is ordered to go to Hyperion and sacrifice Rachel in a replay of the Binding of Isaac. Weintraub becomes increasingly fascinated with the ethical problem that the Binding presents. Shortly before his wife dies, Sol learns that she has been having the same dream word for word with the same faceted, glowing red eyes that match earlier descriptions of the Shrike's eyes. He also worries about what will happen when Rachel reaches her birthday (her actual age of zero days old which will be very soon), and so he decides to become a pilgrim and to implore the Shrike for a treatment.

Following Sol's story the pilgrims witness a space battle which includes the destruction of the Templar Tree-Ship, one of only five, which carried them to Hyperion. The next morning Het Masteen, True Voice of the Tree and captain of the ship, is not to be found on the landship that has been carrying them from the river to the mountains. Despite a watch being maintained all night and no one onboard hearing anything Masteen's stateroom is found full of blood. Silenus, having witnessed such carnage centuries before, states it is obviously the work of the Shrike.

Part Five, The Detective's Tale: "The Long Good-Bye"

(This is told on a suspended cable car across the mountains.) Brawne Lamia, the daughter of a senator of Lusus, eschewed politics for the life of a private investigator after her father's apparent suicide (which occurred shortly after he and the then junior senator Meina Gladstone proposed a bill to quickly incorporate Hyperion into the WorldWeb). Her client is a "cybrid" (a cloned human body which is controlled through its electronic implants by a TechnoCore intelligence) named "Johnny", who wishes to hire her to investigate his own murder. This cybrid is the genetic clone of famous Romantic poet John Keats, and the AI controlling it was programmed to have the personality and memories of Keats as best as could be reconstructed from surviving materials and the 'Core's finest extrapolations.

Unlike most "retrieved personalities", which are of insufficient fidelity to maintain sanity, Johnny functions quite well (though he disclaims poetic talent). His AI self was murdered by being purposely infected with a long-dormant plague known as AIDS II. A backup could not be brought online for a full minute, causing the loss of five days' worth of data and memory. This limited amnesia was the apparent goal of the assault. Lamia sets out to discover what Johnny had learned or done in those five days to prompt such an assault; initially, all she discovers is that it is somehow related to Hyperion: Johnny should have heard of such a place, permeated as it is with tributes to the poet he is supposed to be, but he has not; such an absence of knowledge in an AI of his ability smacks of deception.

She and Johnny are forcibly farcast to a planet that seems to be a perfect imitation of Old Earth, located somewhere in the Hercules cluster, into a portion of Italy, set around the time-period the human Keats died of tuberculosis there.

After a few troublesome actions, hunts and rides through the WorldWeb and the TechnoCore the main information is this: the 'Core is not as monolithic as it appears; it is fiercely divided into at least three groups which continually fight each other.

  1. The Stables. They are the oldest faction, and count some of the very first AIs among their ranks. Their central thesis is that humanity and the TechnoCore need each other, and that the 'Core should continue in the symbiosis. They are also opposed to the UI project (creation of a godlike Ultimate Intelligence): the UI would need the resources that the current AIs use, and they do not wish to die. (In Silenus's Cantos, the Stables are identified with the Titans, who did not wish to yield to their Olympian successors). They have for decades been subtly working to help the Hegemony in its fight against the Volatiles, quietly seeking to bring Hyperion into the WorldWeb, on the chance that its unpredictability will help them.
  2. The Volatiles. They generally support the UI project, and they believe that humanity has outlived its usefulness to the 'Core, and that it actually now poses a real danger, and therefore should be eradicated. They are behind many events, but they fear the planet of Hyperion, because it is a "random variable": it could tip the scales against the 'Core; the effects of Hyperion are impossible for them to analyze.
  3. The Ultimates. They care only for the UI project. They are quite willing to sacrifice their lives to the UI, believing that the value of its existence far outweighs their own. Previously they had been aligned with the Stables against the Volatiles, as humanity (and especially the cybrid retrieval projects) still posed some puzzles which when solved would help in the UI project, but it is implied that they feel they've gathered enough data, and have re-aligned now with the Volatiles to get rid of human kind.

At the end, pregnant by the meanwhile dead Johnny, carrying parts of his consciousness in an implant and revered by the Church of The Shrike as "the mother of our salvation", Lamia joins the pilgrims.

Part Six, The Consul's Tale: "Remembering Siri"

Like Father Hoyt, the Consul tells another tale before his own. This is entitled "Remembering Siri", and is a largely unmodified version of the short story of the same name in Prayers to Broken Stones (where Simmons mentions that this story provided the seed around which the Hyperion universe was created).

The Consul's grandparents had been Merin Aspic (of Lusus) and Siri (of the lush ocean-planet Maui-Covenant). Aspic had signed a long-term contract to engage in several voyages aboard a spinship (with all the years lost to relativistic time dilation that that implies), which would make multiple trips to Maui-Covenant to build a farcaster portal, thereby connecting Maui-Covenant to the waiting voracious hordes of Hegemony tourists. Eventually he falls in love with the beautiful girl named Siri. However, his best friend is killed by a Covenanter who disagrees violently with Maui-Covenant joining the WorldWeb (the events parallel those of Romeo and Juliet).

Siri and Merin meet six more times, but each time Merin – due to the relativistic time dilation of his journeys – is only a little older, while Siri ages at the usual rate, a difference which grows ever more pronounced until the eighth visit (Seventh Reunion), in which Merin returns to find Siri dead of old age, and the farcaster about to be activated. The flood of Hegemony visitors and the induction of Maui-Covenant fully into the WorldWeb would, as prophesied, utterly ruin the ecology and all the dolphin, human, and motile isle settlers hold dear. Faced with this bleak reality, Merin chooses to sabotage the farcaster, beginning "Siri's War", a hopeless resistance against the Hegemony.

In crushing the rebellion, the military destroys the ecology as thoroughly as the tourists would have, but far more violently: all the dolphins die, as do a large proportion of the original Maui-Covenant colonists. The latter Consul was forbidden by Merin to join in the fighting, and so he survived to thrive with distinction in the Hegemony diplomatic corps. There he aids the Hegemony in destroying whatever resistance the Hegemony encounters. He bides his time, waiting for a chance to betray the Hegemony and achieve revenge.

When he is sent as an agent to the Ousters he becomes their agent, but betrays them too when he prematurely activates mysterious Ouster devices intended to release the Shrike from the Time Tombs when it would have a chance to enter the WorldWeb. He knows of the many deaths this action will cause and was driven to this by the Ouster's irrefutable evidence that the Big Mistake that destroyed Earth was deliberately planned by elements of the TechnoCore and the Hegemony, and that the Hegemony was deliberately killing off any species which might become a rival to man in order to maintain its place, and that the 'Core feared Ousters who were out of their control, and sought to use the Hyperion system as bait in order to eliminate them.

Major characters

  • The Shrike is a menacing and immensely powerful creature of uncertain origin and motives which appears throughout the narrative, often in a seemingly antagonistic role. It is known for impaling people on a massive tree made of metal, whose branches are massive thorns. It is named after the "Shrike" bird which impales insects and small animals on the thorns of a tree. The pilgrims expect to find the Shrike in the Time Tombs, which are the ultimate destination of their journey, but as they tell their individual tales it becomes clear that the creature is already deeply connected to each of them.
  • The Consul is the former planetary governor of Hyperion. He is for much of the first novel enigmatic, observing and recording the stories of the other Shrike Pilgrims but reluctant to record his own. He is one of the few thousand individuals amongst the hundred and fifty billion Hegemony citizens to own his own private starship.
  • Meina Gladstone is the CEO of the Hegemony of Man and Commander in Chief, former senator, residing on Tau Ceti Center.
  • Lenar Hoyt is a Roman Catholic priest in his early 30s, in a universe where Catholicism has shrunk to a shadow of its former self, claiming only a few thousand followers.
  • Fedmahn Kassad is a colonel in the Hegemony of Man's FORCE military, of Palestinian descent from Mars.
  • Brawne Lamia is a private detective. Her name derives from a combination of Fanny Brawne, the love of John Keats, and the eponymous creature of his Lamia and Other Poems. Brawne is the daughter of Senator Byron Lamia, once a friend of CEO Meina Gladstone's, who "apparently" committed suicide when Brawne was a child.
  • Het Masteen is the most mysterious of all seven pilgrims. He is a Templar—a nature priest of sorts—who captains the Treeship Yggdrasill that brings the pilgrims to Hyperion.
    • Treeships are living trees that are propelled by ergs (an alien being that emits force fields) through space. The ergs also generate the containment fields (force fields) around the tree that keep its atmosphere intact. There are only five treeships in existence including Yggdrasill.
  • Martin Silenus is a foul-mouthed poet. Born on Earth before its destruction, he is incredibly old. Like Keats, he is working on an unfinished epic poem.
  • Sol Weintraub is a Jewish scholar. His daughter was afflicted with an illness dubbed the "Merlin Sickness" that caused her to age backwards: she gets younger as time progresses.


  • Hugo Award winner, 1990
  • Locus Award winner, 1990
  • British Science Fiction Award nominee, 1990
  • Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee, 1992
  • NPR-Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books: Hyperion Cantos Rated 51st

Screen adaptations

In 2009, Scott Derrickson was set to direct "Hyperion Cantos" for Warner Bros. and Graham King, with Trevor Sands penning the script to blend the first two cantos "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion" into one film. In 2011, actor Bradley Cooper expressed interest in taking over the adaptation. On June 10, 2015 it was announced that TV channel Syfy will produce a mini-series based on the Hyperion Cantos with the involvement of Cooper and King. As of May 2017, the project was still "in development" at Syfy.


External links

  • Hyperion at Worlds Without End

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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