Thursday, December 29, 2005
I've just finished the two part saga, Ilium and Olympos, by Dan Simmons, and I must say they are wonderful. Simmons is now cemented in my mind as one of the foremost writers of good science fiction of today. You may remember me going on and on about some of Simmons' other books, in the Hyperion series, and the wonderful and well crafted literary connections present there. Well, the same is true for these two books I just finished, only more so. I wouldn't say it's necessary to have read the Iliad and the Odyssey before reading Ilium, and Olympos, but it certainly would help. (My friend Griffin reports its also not likely necessary for the reading of Simmons' work, but if you want to call yourself a human being you should probably read Homer. I agree.) All the major important parts of Homer that Simmons' writes and plays on are well summarized, but still, if you know and love Homer, you'll get much more out of these books. Oh, and Shakespeare, too. Yes, that's right, ole Billy Shakes' plays play a huge role in these stories as well. And Keats' makes an encore cameo. Poetry and literature form a strong backbone to most of Simmon's work, and this is no exception. You don't have to be an expert in it all to enjoy it, but knowing some of it definitely heightened my enjoyment of the books. Man, Simmons' is good! He's managed to break a major literary convention by totally hijacking someone else's characters (Homer's) and used them for his own purposes, and made me like it. I was totally engrossed in this story that involves ancient battles, futuristic time travel, a heavy dose of quantum physics, literary analysis, robots from Jupiter of some time era, recombinant dinosaurs, Greek gods, and one of the scariest prognostications of where the human race may be headed I've ever read. The characters become beloved, even those you thought you knew, like Odysseus and the fleet-footed Achilles. The first book also features one of the best ending sentences I've ever read and the second one begins with a sentence that totally throws you all off kilter because of its anachronisms (if that even describes what happens). The crafting of the story mimics Homer in many places and to those who know, it's definitely an educated nod in your direction. And it ends well. I mean, by saying that, that it ends. Unlike so many other science fiction and fantasy writers who are irritating me by dragging their story on and on and on and on (staring in Robert Jordan's direction and beginning to wonder about George R. R. Martin), this story comes to a conclusion. It was a satisfying conclusion to me. There was only really one loose-end not tied up, but it was an acceptable one. Several of the puzzling things that occur in the background story of the book were not explained, but I see no reason why they needed to be. None of the characters could possibly have explained them, so it would have been silly to try and write that in. All in all, this two-part story comes highly recommended. It's fun! It takes so many things and so many ideas and throws them all together in one big mess of a pot, and you know what, it works. I'd suggest you read them - these two are not to be missed.
[Later: Ok, I've just gone and read some of the reviews of Olympos on Amazon, particularly the ones that give negative reviews. Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I have to say I disagree with some of their complaints. Most of them revolve around unexplained events and loose ends. Tough, say I. Like I mentioned, there is no character that could have been poised to explain all those "mysteries", so it would have neccesitated a disembodied third person voice not present in all the rest of the story. As to who some of the mysterious characters are - well, they remain mysterious, and that's ok too, in my opinion. I am left wondering who and what some of these people/things were, but it's a pleasant wondering, not a frustrated one. As to the complaints by several reviewers about who the main, most powerful characters actually were, I say they need to re-read the story, cause Simmons did explain that in a very creative way. One reviewer said the story was an "anachronistic devotion to the neoconservative agenda of the misguided "war on terrorism" with all its paraphernalia, including not only violent and racist anti-Islamic bias, but also rejection of all non-Western cultures and values, both latent and open homophobia and French-phobia, and, most bizarrely, sarcastic hatred of women". If you're really seeing all that in this book (I'll admit there were some homophobic remarks made) you need to get out more. The stuff mentioned about anti-Islam was only a fair, speculative, and fictional, line of thought about where radical and militant Muslims would be placed within this story. As for the "War on Terror" remark, wow, I'm no big supporter of the "War", but honestly, I can't possibly see how this book could be considered a "devotion" to it. ANd to the comment about hatred of women, guess this reviewer doesn't know much about how women were treated in the time period, because I thought it was a fair representation, (after all, the Iliad opens with a disagreement about who owns a captured slave woman- Briseis - and who has sexual rights to her) especially since the strength, fortitude, leadership, and courage of many of the primary female characters is not only highlighted, but drives much of the story! Seems to me this reviewer read the book with an agenda. And that's fine, but I'm now not going to give them any more of my time.]
Hrm...I read the first one when it came out, but I've been waiting for the second to hit paperback so I could just buy both of them (read the first from the library). I was very impressed with the first, but I still prefer the Hyperion books. And I'd agree about Simmons being a master, but I'd classify him as being more 'soft' science fiction (not like the difference it important to anyone but the ubernerds...)
Jordan's got a new book out that's supposed to be much better than his most recent, and the next one (#12) is supposed to be the final one of the series.
Martin just released a new book too, but I haven't checked out any reviews or anything about it. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds that five-year hiatus between books ironic in light of that email exchange the two of you had.