The Fall of Hyperion (1990) by Dan Simmons

Don't miss out on other works in the series:
Hyperion (1989) Book Review
Endymion (1996) Book Review
The Rise of Endymion (1997) Book Review
Available works by Dan Simmons


Set in the 29th Century in the inter-stellar civilisation of the Hegemony of Man, The Fall of Hyperion is the second book in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (1989-1997). Hyperion Cantos represents a high point in postmodern space opera with its playful, self-conscious style and appropriation of past literary genres. Simmons returns to the Master Narrative in The Fall of Hyperion, finishing the ‘unfinished’ narrative of the first novel Hyperion. It won the BSFA Best Novel award (1991), the Locus Best SF Novel award (1991) and the SF Chronicle Novel award (1991).

The story is told by a reincarnation of the historical poet John Keats, now residing in the cybernetic body of Joseph Severn. An AI TechnoCore construct, Severn enjoys access to the AI datasphere, which together with a copy of his mind, implanted in the the pilgrim Brawne Lamia’s brain, gives him an omniscient view of events. The narrative begins where it was abruptly cut off in the prequel with the arrival of the pilgrims at the Time Tombs. Severn reports to Meina Gladstone, leader of the Hegemony, who has sent an armada for Hyperion to rescue it from an imminent Ouster invasion. It still remains a mystery as to whose side the the TechnoCore is on, the Core itself scared by rumours an unknown machine intelligence lurking in the datasphere. While the mystery of the Time Tombs and the fates of the pilgrims remain largely unsolved as well, the novel concludes with the Hegemony’s destruction of the farcaster instant travelling system, a death knell to the Hegemony of Man.

While Servern’s Core datasphere connections allow Simmons to employ a Master Narrative, the pastiche, nostalgia and genre cannibalism of Hyperion continues unabated. One pilgrim, the scholar Sol Weintraub has been asked by the Shrike to sacrifice his daughter, a replay of the Binding of Isaac . The poet Martin Silenus has found his muse again appropriating the myth of Titanomachy: the TechnoCore playing the part of the Olympians, the humans that of the Titans. And just as the real John Keats’ The Fall of Hyperion is presented as a dream, so is Severn’s access to Brawne Lamia subject to being in a dream-state. Severn, unlike his near namesake Severian from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (1980-1983), does not constantly have to remind us that he has an eidetic memory.

The themes of bioengineered posthumanism, sentient machine intelligence and spacetime manipulation naturally raise a number of fundamental questions about what it means to be human in Hyperion Cantos. While the TechnoCore becomes a vehicle for machine godhood threatening to usurp mankind, the spacetime manipulation of the Time Tombs opens up for prophesies and the coming of messiahs, ideas also explored in David Zindell’s Neverness Universe (1988-1998) and Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (1980-1983). These postmodern space opera works all revolve around a spiritualism-science axis, where on the one hand technology and inter-stellar pluralism chip away at humanity’s religious inclinations, and on the other hand technology generates new possibilities of godhood, religions and messianic cults. While the Catholic Church is reduced to a historical footnote in the first two books, technology revives it in the sequels.

As the TechnoCore starts to play a larger role in the series, a more nuanced understanding of its composites forms, and while a lot of misinformation is provided – only to be resolved in the final book in the series – it is clear that the Core contain different factions: the Stables who desires friendly cohabitation with humanity, the Volatiles who wish to end the collaboration and the Ultimates who only care about achieving godhood. Many of the factions are just as afraid of the Shrike and the the unknown Other lurking in the datasphere as the Hegemony. The Hegemony also learn that the Core is using the farcaster system to tap into human consciousness, a perceived threat which guides Gladstone’s efforts to end the symbiosis between AI and mankind. Humanity’s uneasy relationship with sentient AI that has outgrown humans is a trope adopted in much postmodern space opera literature, not least in Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), where AI constructs behave as Olympian gods.