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Book Review: Olympos, by Dan Simmons

God, Gods, Heroes, Robots, Monsters, Aliens, Literary References, Post-Humans, Epic SF Weirdness


Harper Voyager, 2005, 704 pages

Beneath the gaze of the gods, the mighty armies of Greece and Troy met in fierce and glorious combat, scrupulously following the text set forth in Homer's timeless narrative. But that was before 21st-century scholar Thomas Hockenberry stirred the bloody brew, causing an enraged Achilles to join forces with his archenemy, Hector, and turn his murderous wrath on Zeus and the entire pantheon of divine manipulators; before the swift and terrible mechanical creatures that catered for centuries to the pitiful idle remnants of Earth's human race began massing in the millions, to exterminate rather than serve.

And now all bets are off.

Like the Hyperion Cantos, the first book in the Ilium series was excellent, but the conclusion was still good but not really as good as the first volume.

Olympos, the second book of this fat duology, continues the saga of a classics professor from 21st century Earth resurrected 3000 years later to witness a recreation of the Trojan War on a terraformed Mars. Although it's not really accurate to call this Hockenberry's saga; he is just the unifying character flitting between the subplots and separate groups of characters, but being a middle-aged temporally displaced academic with a few technological artifacts and his modest wits, he's hardly as epic a figure as vainglorious, undefeatable Achilles, tricky, crafty Odysseus, beautiful and scheming Helen, or the entire Greek pantheon.

Hockenberry, the only first-person narrator, remains a rather milquetoast protagonist, though it's hardly his fault that he got yanked from a Midwestern university 3000 years into the future where the gods themselves want him dead.

The more interesting chapters are those describing the continuing adventures of the Greek and Trojan heroes. The gods - in actuality, beings with the power to manipulate quantum and nanotechnology in a godlike fashion - have been following the script for their reenactment of the Trojan War, but in the last book, Homer's plot went off the rails thanks to Hockenberry's intervention. Now Achilles and Hector have teamed up to go to war with the gods, and as Olympos opens, Troy is besieged daily by Olympian lightning bolts, air raids by Apollo on his fiery chariot, and monster attacks, while being defended by the Moravecs, a "race" of sentient robots that has been living among the moons of Jupiter while studying the history and culture of the nearly-extinct human race.

Meanwhile, the remaining humans on Earth, whose miraculous ancient technology has fallen, are being forced to learn how to actually survive the hard way, even as long-dormant mechanical beings have awoken and begun seeking to exterminate them. They are also forced to contend with Caliban, the cannibalistic genetically engineered monstrosity who was one of the chief villains in the previous volume.

There are a lot of characters and subplots here, and Simmons as usual loads this science-fantasy space opera with references from Proust, Homer, Shakespeare, Browning, and numerous others. He layers subplot over subplot, multiple layers of villainous schemes, each villain being the pawn of a greater one, and then starts shoving all sorts of reality-bending weirdness into the story, involving actual divine beings, quantum reality, the last remnants of an apocalyptic war, all still while having Shakespearean and Homeric figures running around doing battle.

Simmons definitely captures the barbaric nobility of the Greeks (and sheer assholishness of the Greek gods). And while at times I really had no idea where the story was going, it was never boring. In the end, I think it got a bit bloated and meandering and it seemed that Simmons was willing to throw any weird idea that came to him into the mix, which is why this was a huge doorstopper of a novel following a previous huge doorstopper of a novel.

An epic SF saga, which I recommend, but in my opinion slightly inferior to the first book. 8/10.

Also by Dan Simmons: My reviews of Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion, Ilium, and Summer of Night.

My complete list of book reviews.

My Book Reviews



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