Tuesday, May 19, 2009


by Dan Simmons

Wow! I don’t think I have said that about a book in many a year. Here is what the blurb from the book says:

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

While that is the set up, the book is the stories of six of the pilgrims. When the pilgrims first meet up to begin their journey to the planet Hyperion to see the Shrike they decide to each honestly tell their stories and their connection with Hyperion which may aid them in their endeavor. The worlds that are depicted in the six stories are amazingly well realized and could easily serve as settings for entire novels or even a series in their own right. The characters themselves are also very well developed.

I don’t want to give too much away but .... The pilgrims are 1) a Catholic priest 2) a Colonel in the military of Palestinian descent 3) a female private detective with an AI client 4) a Jewish scholar who brings his infant daughter on the trip 5) an incredibly old poet who lived on old earth before it was destroyed and 6) the Consul, a former governor of Hyperion. There are so many worlds and concepts that could serve as entire books in them selves. I loved the idea of “the World Web” which were worlds linked together not only by communications but by “farcaster” portals that literally allowed you to step from one world to another. There are even houses described where each room would be on a different planet. I found the TechnoCore fascinating - AI’s that are linked together in the “datasphere” and that provided humanity with the “farcaster” technology and basically run the World Web. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is just a hard scifi book because it certainly is not.

I loved the depictions of old earth before it was destroyed - the water levels rising, the extreme rich partying in their little enclaves while the rest of the world went to hell. I loved the planet Maui Covenant (think Hawaii) with its living “motile” islands that migrate in groups with the seasons and the dolphins transplanted from Earth that humanity can now speak with. I also loved all the references to the poet John Keats from which the author takes the novel’s name. Keats not only provides the book’s title named after one of his poems but at one point is the name of the main city on Hyperion set up by Mad King Billy to be an artists colony. And then there is a memorable “cybrid” which is an artificial recreation of the poet John Keats. It seems that all the different segments or aspects of earth have been transplanted to the stars. Catholicism, Islam, Judaism all play a part in the story. There are also Templars who have mysterious tree ships that travel between the stars. And then of course there are some other non- earth aspects such as the Ousters - the enemy that Man is about to go to war with. It is interesting that it is not entirely clear that the Ousters are really the bad guys at all.

This book ends after hearing the six pilgrims tales but before they reach their destination to see the Shrike. I understand that there are three more books in the Hyperion Cantos - the Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and the Rise of Endymion. I immediately bought the Fall of Hyperion when I finished this book to see what happens to the pilgrims but the six stories are so completely rendered that even with out reading any more I would have been satisfied.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

This is my first novel for the Once Upon A Time III challenge. I have read such glowing reviews of this book that I not only read it for the challenge but was thinking that it might be one of my selections for my book club. I am afraid that I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it either but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations.

The story is about a 12-year-old English boy, David, who, after the death of his mother, moves with his father and new step mother to the new wife’s family’s country estate. David is given an attic room lined with old books from a previous occupant and the books begin to literally whisper to him. One day after seeing an intruder in his room, David hears his dead mother’s voice in the sunken garden calling to him for help. He follows the voice and finds himself in a very different place where he searches for his mother and a way back to his world.

There is nothing I like better than a book about books. I loved the beginning - who could resist books actually whispering - but as soon as he goes through the crack in the garden wall and finds himself in a different world, the book totally lost me. I appreciated that this new realm is not the realm of Disney fairy tales but harkens back to the brutality of the original Grimm fairy tales that do not necessarily have happy endings. The book is definitely not written for kids, or adults who are the faint of heart. But for me, his retelling of extremely familiar fairy tales was not unique enough to keep my interest. As soon as Roland entered the story I wanted to lay this aside and pick up the Dark Tower series by Stephen King which really does a fabulous job using Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. And it’s not that I don’t like fairy tales (I love the Russian ones like Baba Yaga) or re-telling familiar fairy tales (I loved Wicked by Gregory Maguire).

Not only did the plot not hold my interest but the writing itself just wasn’t enough to captivate me. Some authors could write about watching paint dry such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Robbins or Haruki Murakami and I still would be totally entertained and awed by their writing. The writing in this book does not fit into that category. I kept feeling that I was reading a children’s book, even though it is clearly too gruesome in some parts for children. I think that this came from the very simplistic writing style which I found annoying.

Finally, every review I have read has mentioned something that lead me to believe that reading and books would play a major role in the story. (Like the Shadow of the Wind or the Uncommon Reader). I loved the whispering books at the very beginning of the story but that idea was never developed. I was hopeful that since the boy was ultimately seeking “The Book of Lost Things” that a book would play a pivotal role. It is indeed a book about stories and fairy tales but I had hoped that books themselves or reading would play a role.

It was a quick and easy read. All in all I was disappointed as it didn’t live up to my expectations. I do believe however that even if I had not read the rave reviews and had simply read the cover blurb I still would have been unsatisfied with the book.