Spectra, 1990, 517 pages
In the stunning continuation of the epic adventure begun in Hyperion, Simmons returns us to a far future resplendent with drama and invention.
On the world of Hyperion, the mysterious Time Tombs are opening. And the secrets they contain mean that nothing - nothing anywhere in the universe - will ever be the same.
When I read the first volume in the Hyperion Cantos a few months ago, I found Hyperion entertaining enough, but it just didn't impress me that much, certainly not enough to make me think it deserved a Hugo Award (though there are other Hugo Award winners that I think are even less deserving).
The Fall of Hyperion is the second book of the four-volume Hyperion Cantos, which comes in two duologies. The first two books are essentially Volume I and Volume II of a single story. Hyperion ends with all loose threads dangling, but The Fall of Hyperion wraps it all up in a pretty satisfying manner. Simmons could have ended the series here. I haven't read the two Endymion books that follow, but I will.
Hyperion introduced us to a group of seven pilgrims heading towards the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion. Simmons used the device of the Canterbury Tales in that book, as each of the pilgrims, who came from different planets in the Hegemony, told the others their stories and why they were making the pilgrimage to meet the mysterious entity known as the Shrike.
The Fall of Hyperion is told in a more conventional manner, though it remains a multiple-POV narrative, shifting between the surviving pilgrims and the leaders of the Hegemony, who are fighting a war against the Ousters. The Hegemony is a vast human empire descended from (destroyed) Old Earth, spanning hundreds of planets connected by the matter-transmitting Web. As the story starts, the Ousters -- a vast "Golden Horde" of space barbarians, has begun an all-out invasion in what appears to be a war of extinction. The scope of the story starts out epic and only becomes more so, as the intrigue among different AI factions in the TechnoCore, hinted at in Hyperion, becomes pivotal. The survival of humanity is at stake, and while planet-destroying space fleets clash light years away, it is the pilgrims on Hyperion who will ultimately determine the outcome.
In The Fall of Hyperion, we learn the true nature of the murderous god-like creature known as the Shrike. Simmons weaves a very complicated multi-threaded story with conflict on many levels. The Ousters, the Hegemony, and the TechnoCore each comprise multiple factions with conflicting goals, all of them have both noble and despicable actors among them, and all of them are wielding genocidal force. Yet Simmons makes the personal conflicts of the pilgrims back on Hyperion just as important. He also stirs in time travel, religious metaphor, the poetry of John Keats, and a twist that left me wondering why no one ever accuses the Wachowski Brothers of ripping him off for The Matrix.
(Reportedly, a Hyperion film has been in development for years. I fear these are the kind of books that are just too complex and full of Big Ideas that were written without a special effects budget in mind to result in anything other than a crappy movie.)
Basically, I liked it a lot, although the many different plot threads became rather tangled, I'm not sure Simmons completely navigated around a couple of plot holes, and along with his religious and poetic allusions, he pulls out the old Messiah/Chosen One trope in the end.
In his favor, Simmons's writing is definitely up to the scale of the story. If you're going to describe entire planets being put to the sword and technology that affects literally billions of people, you need to have great descriptive abilities, and if you're going to make individual people important in such a story, you need to be good at characterization and dialog. I wasn't completely wowed by the old-school SF of the first book, which felt a bit dated even for something written in 1990, but I think Simmons stepped up in book two and left a little bit of the hoariness behind along with some (but not all) of his poetic conceits.
Just to reiterate: this is the second volume of a duology, and I would not recommend reading it as a stand-alone novel. Read Hyperion first. But this book ends with enough resolution to consider the story over even if you don't read volumes three and four.
Verdict: Recommended if you like epic space opera that's not quite "old school" but predates current trends (socially-themed sci-fi, singularities, posthumans, etc.). Is Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion the best sci-fi story ever? No, but for something written at the dawn of the Internet era, it's still pretty good, and merits being considered a classic of the genre if not a masterpiece. While I was lukewarm about continuing with the series after book one, book two has convinced me to read the rest.