The fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons.
I am, very fittingly, going ‘back in time’ as I had only read the novel Endymion from the series until now (people who have read the books will understand). I must admit I was a bit disappointed; Endymion is in my opinion a much better novel. According to some people, so is the predecessor, Hyperion.
I have two main problems with the book [if you want to avoid SPOILERS in the following, read the bold part and leave the rest]:
a) Far too much is going on with far too many people.
A classic: There are way too many people in this book and they experience a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time. The result is that we don’t care as much about what happen to them as we ought to. We met most of them in Hyperion too, but this book has to be judged independently as I have not read Hyperion yet, and also if it cannot stand on its own, well that’s a problem. Even if I get the sense that he tries from time to time, Simmons just never really gets to me, the story is much too confused and fast-paced. For instance we follow Fedmahn Kassad for a relatively long time, but after several chapters with him his death still touches me about as much as the death of Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie from the 80’es would have. Simmons also manages to pretty much destroy two whole planets without beforehand following just one of the people who get killed for any significant amount of time. Billions of people die and we just don’t care, for we didn’t know any of them. And we’re not even really expected to care, are we?
b) Deliberate vagueness. There’s much too much of it.
Even if we don’t get close to the people involved, neither do we get to the bottom of much else. A lot of things, including but certainly not only the ‘how stuff works’ part, are left deliberately vague. For example, in the end of the novel the AI’s sever the fatlines. Suddenly after more than 500 pages we learn that the fatlines and the datasphere are connected, even if no such link had been hinted at before. Yes, one might argue that it makes sense that the humans were not aware of just how powerful the AI’s had become, and this is a good way of illustrating it, but … Ouster technology allowed the use of fatlines too, even if no link existed between Ouster worlds and the AI’s of the Core. So assuming the Ousters were right about their own state of affairs, and we have no reason to do otherwise, they had nothing to do with the Core but they still had fatlines. Thus the question that needs answering is this: Where does the AI control over the fatlines of the (now former) Hegemony come from? To put it bluntly, we haven’t got a clue. And neither does the author – or so it seems to me.
[END OF SPOILERS]
Don’t misunderstand me: SF-writers are allowed to be vague on some technical matters, but we need to know that they have some idea what’s going on; sometimes, like in the example above, Simmons actually made me question whether he himself had any idea ‘how stuff works’ in his own universe. In short, it’s fine if some of the characters do not understand all the technological facets (…could you explain to me, briefly, how a combustion engine works?), but for me to be convinced, the author needs to convince me that there’s at least a rough model somewhere explaining what is going on. I doubt such a model exists here and this is a major setback. It’s just not convincing enough for me to believe.
All these things said, I did read the book to the end, and I never do that if the book is not worth it. If you like a fast-paced (soft) sci-fi action/adventure epic novel – go for it! If you do not, it’s probably still worth reading – but…