In theory, The Fall of Hyperion is the sequel to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (reviewed here). However, it feels like it comes from a different franchise. Fans of Hyperion expecting to learn more about the six pilgrims will find themselves disappointed. If anything, Fall of Hyperion draws more from the frame narrative of Hyperion than the short stories.
Fall of Hyperion focuses less on character and more on plot. We spend relatively little time with the pilgrims and more time with Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone and her war council. As hinted in the end of Hyperion, war has broken out between the Hegemony and Ousters, and as well as an Artificial Intelligence construct.
Simmons engages with some interesting literary and philosophical dilemmas in this book, but as a reader I found it difficult to become invested. I wanted to learn the fate of the pilgrims from Hyperion, but Fall of Hyperion doesn’t seem as interested in them. I didn’t quite understand the significance of what the characters were doing, and indeed they generally felt peripheral to the real story. I noticed that the Wikipedia summary for Fall of Hyperion for the novel doesn’t even mention the fate of one of the pilgrims!
Once I understood that Fall of Hyperion would focus on the war between humanity and AIs, I started to appreciate it more. The book sets up an interesting “Sophie’s choice” in which CEO Gladstone believes the destruction of Hegemony civilization is the only alternative to the destruction of humanity. The book hints at the reasons why she feels this way, but doesn’t really explain the full scale of the dilemma until the very end. This makes it a bit difficult to fully understand Gladstone’s decisions without knowing all the details, but there is a payoff at the end that ties together all of the pilgrims’ stories. Still, it might have been better had the book spent more time exploring that moral dilemma rather than keeping it as a mystery.
Simmons engages in quite a bit of name-dropping for my taste. References to other works of literature or historical figures tend to work well when they are related to the themes or characters in the book. However, there’s always a risk that an author will use references as a crutch to trigger certain associations rather than taking the time to develop the story. Hyperion was often heavy-handed in its literary allusions, but I didn’t mind so long as they seemed to fit the story. In Fall of Hyperion, Simmons is much less subtle. For example, Simmons constantly refers to CEO Gladstone as Lincolnesque and compares her to Churchill, telling rather than showing that she is a strong wartime leader. I actually found the character more interesting in the ways that she differed from Churchill and Lincoln.
There is yet another cyborg construct of 19th century English poet John Keats, and this time he’s a point of view character. Of course, given the title of the book, Fall of Hyperion is supposed to be an homage to Keats’ unfinished poem of that name. Still, I could never understand why a society 800 years in the future would be so obsessed with this poet, much less resurrect him, much less allow him to participate in to secret war councils. As somebody who knows relatively little about Keats, I felt I was missing crucial parts of the story, which is never good as a reader.
I know some fans of Hyperion recommend not reading Fall of Hyperion at all. I wouldn’t go that far. It’s worthwhile just to get some resolution to the cliffhanger in Hyperion (and the Wikipedia summary doesn’t quite do the story justice). But I don’t think I’d read this book again were I to ever reread Hyperion.