Hyperion by Dan Simmons

(discussed January 14, 1999)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read (and completed!) the book gave the following ratings: 8, 8, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10.
Average: 9.4 (!)
Note: This includes a vote from Raja Thiagarajan, who was in Houston during the meeting.

This book was sponsored by Julie England, who had just finished The Rise of Endymion (which is the "third sequel" to Hyperion) and liked it a lot.

Much to his annoyance, Raja Thiagarajan couldn't make the meeting. (This had even happened to him once before: When an earlier version of this group discussed Hyperion, he had to be in India.) Raja had taken "extensive notes" for the discussion, which he wasn't able to use. However, he did prepare a statement for Julie to read at the meeting, and asked her to take notes for him. Here is the statement, slightly edited:

Why I like Hyperion so much (It's #11 on my list of the Best SF books ever):

The main reason I like Hyperion is that it is so subversive and surprising. The Hegemony looks like the standard space opera "Galactic Empire," threatened from without by the "barbarian hordes" -- the Ousters. The Consul seems to have been set up as One Lone Man with a checkered past who can defend the civilized and humane Hegemony. And yet this is completely wrong: The Hegemony is rapacious (as witness what it did to Maui-Covenant), static, and bland, whereas the "barbarian" Ousters are diverse, free, and willing to experiment with everything, including themselves. (The chief exception being computer technology -- with good reason, it turns out.) The Consul is in fact an Ouster agent, trying to leak the secrets of the Hegemony and give the secrets of the Time Tombs to the Ousters in the hopes that they will destroy the Hegemony; he is motivated by what the Hegemony did to his ancestors and his home planet. Best of all, all of this is in plain sight: There are clues aplenty that the author presents, but (I suspect) few readers will pick up on them until the Consul tells his own tale.
(One example of a clue in plain sight is Martin Silenus's description of the Hegemony on page 189: "[W]e all know how stultified and static our human universe has become.")

Politics of prose: I contrast Hyperion sharply with The Book of the New Sun and Riddley Walker, which use an unusual vocabulary or wholly non-standard English to achiever their aims. Hyperion is told, from beginning to end, in very elegant and clear modern English, and yet it still manages to bamboozle the reader. I think this is a higher achievement than doing the same with non-standard English.