Dan Simmons – Ilium

The Hyperion novels of Dan Simmons belong to my all time favorites. It is thus somewhat strange that I’ve hardly read any other works by his hand. Perhaps it was just that they didn’t appeal to me that much and I also have to admit that besides these novels I rarely see his other works in libraries or in stores. So it’s about time I did pick up something that is not related to his Hyperion novels. The book that I read is another science fiction novel called Ilium (2003) and there are some unusual things about it.

The core to this novel is the unusual combination of ideas. The story is a fusion of three rather different ideas that have little in common with each other. Nevertheless Simmons has set forth to use all his skills to bring them together to one whole. The advantage of this fusion is that the reader is actually reading three kinds of science fiction stories, each with their own themes and concepts, which provides variation and a rich mixture for the reading experience. The downside is that despite the fusion the continuous shifts between such different ideas it does not manage become a greater whole. It is not that Simmons does not spend enough attention to either of them. As said his writing skills are great so it is already a marvel that he manages to fuse them together so well. It is just that, to me, I could not decide on the essence of the greater story. I kept being pulled between the three ideas. That’s the best way I can describe.

While reading the novel I was rather surprised to have quite a number deja vu’s related to the Hyperion novels. Certain technological concepts I had seen before, just in a different fashion now. He also re-uses the ideas of the re-embodiment of figures and settings of literature. While they are an enrichment they do feel a bit overreaching as if Simmons want to impress too much and induce a higher level of literature into his novel. An important component of one of the three ideas relates to Homeros‘¬† Iliad. He does this to such an extent that people who still want to read it had best do so before reading this novel. In a way he honors this great work while on the other hand he does it a bit too much.

With three stories the narrative switches continuously and the pace is fairly fast for the reader, having a hard time to lay down the novel. The main characters are all quite different and nowhere cliché. He provides them all with sufficient character development, but none of them really appealed to me.

The plot itself is filled with ideas and revelations. There are not that many twists, just some of them here and there to keep the reader out of easy expectations. Luckily the twists are not necessary just because the combination of the three ideas provides Simmons with weird connections and complexities.

As I mentioned the story has some things similar to the Hyperion novels. Because of this I automatically began to compare them. This is good and entertaining science fiction, alas no classic. Some concepts Simmons used before already and the new things he is introducing now is certainly not exploring new terrain as many other science fiction novels had written similar stories, although perhaps not as strange as Simmons has made it. Of course this novel is already 9 years old. Even I am unable to put it in the right reference of the time it was written as certain technological advancements have made quite some jumps during the past decade.

It is hard for me to put a good quality assessment of this novel. To appreciate a novel you have to read it not this late after it was published as especially with science fiction, certain ideas have become commonplace. It is one of the reasons why I don’t read that much science fiction as there is a risk ideas become outdated or even misconceived. There is no chance with that happening soon to his novel as Simmons reaches far ahead.

 

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