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StoReads: ‘Hyperion’ invites us to think about contemporary problems from a new perspective

Dan Simmons’ science fiction novel “Hyperion” was published in 1989 and set over 700 years into the future, but its content is tailor made for 2022.

The set up for “Hyperion” is simple but shrouded in mystery: In the year 2764, seven pilgrims are selected for a journey to the planet Hyperion as the galaxy sits on the brink of war. On this journey, relevant themes abound. 

While we grapple with the resurgence of war with the invasion of Ukraine, the pilgrims reckon with the start of an intergalactic conflict not seen in centuries, in which they are helpless observers. 

Beyond war, the novel is laden with themes of environmentalism and the effects of colonialism. Humans have grown technologically advanced and spread out across the galaxy, but show trademark vices of the past, destroying and exploiting environments on a planetary scale to suit the needs of the ultra rich or fuel the galaxy’s vast economic machine. No lessons in conservation have been learned from how “Old Earth” — as it is referred to — was treated. It seems there is less reason to care about an ecosystem when there are an infinite amount of new worlds to find and exploit. 

Simmons also has the incredible foresight to predict the pervasive presence of technology and artificial intelligence. As our screen time increases and what we see is increasingly determined by algorithms, humans in “Hyperion” are connected to each other and to vast “data spheres” through implants. Some even leave the real world behind, plugging themselves into virtual realities while others are addicted to “flashback” drugs which allows the reliving of memories, similar to how Mark Zuckerberg seeks to craft an escapist “Metaverse” today. This overreliance on tech and hedonistic distractions eventually borders on subjugation, and the ways in which humans reconcile their humanity in the light of these advanced gifts is central in Simmons’s narrative. 

The novel is unique not only in content but in structure. The story unravels itself as each pilgrim tells their personal story, allowing Simmons to really flex his storytelling ability, touching on the genres of sci-fi, horror, mystery, romance, history, and poetry all at once. 

The format also makes “Hyperion” an appealing re-entry into reading for pleasure. Being so inundated in this internet age, I have not been able to engross myself in a book for a while, but bouncing from story to story gave “Hyperion” a unique episodic feel. I would get sucked into the story of one character and race to finish their narrative only to find myself more even taken with the next tale. This cycle kept my attention and made Hyperion a compelling read. 

Readers are also thrown into the story completely blind. Virtually no explanation of the futuristic technologies Simmons has dreamt up for 28th century humankind is given at the outset. This can be initially off-putting — it even led me to shelve the book after a few pages years ago — but leads to satisfying payoff as each story explains not just more about a pilgrim, but fleshes out the galaxy Simmons has built. 

“Hyperion” is a sci-fi masterpiece with much more to offer than can fit in a short article. Packed full of unique concepts and relevant themes, Dan Simmons’ work is worthy of any reader’s time today. 

 

rogers16@stolaf.edu