Dan Simmons is not one to turn from a challenge and in Ilium, he takes on the task of rewriting the Iliad not retelling it, rewriting it. In science fiction, Simmons is best known for his massive Hyperion series, which won the Hugo Award and cemented his reputation as a storyteller of stylistic, well-written novels. Ilium will no doubt please those readers who appreciate a complex, epic tale, filled with literary allusions.
Thomas Hockenberry is a "scholic," a present-day college professor revived after death by the Greek gods to observe the Trojan War and compare the events to what he knows of Homer's Iliad. Hockenberry has god-given armor and the ability to morph into other people's bodies so he can attend events in person. Then there are the two moravecs (self-evolving, sentient flesh and machine robots), Mahnnmut and Orphu of Io, sent in from the far reaches of the solar system by their leaders to investigate a worrying rise in quantum activity on Mars. Lastly, there are those few thousand humans living in machine-controlled comfort on Earth far in our future.
Simmons, who has also written horror and suspense novels, occasionally trips up over such difficulties as how to make non-human characters sympathetic to the reader (give them human quirks, such as a love of Proust or Shakespeare), or how to provide the reader with an appropriate sense of scale in the far future fictional world.
But after a slow-paced start, Simmons skillfully intertwines his myriad storylines, building suspense along the way. Whole swaths of sympathetic characters come to the fore and by the end, when all is revealed and new questions arise, the reader is more than happy with the tale told and more than ready for the second volume, the forthcoming Olympos. Which leads us to the question: is this series a bi-ology? Gavin J. Grant writes from Northhampton, Massachusetts.