World-class maker of worlds
A talk with Dan Simmons
In The Rise of Endymion, Dan Simmons brings the epic tale of his Hyperion universe to its powerful conclusion. Spanning four novels and many centuries of real and imagined galactic history, the Hyperion saga is an astonishing achievement, overbrimming with adventure, lyricism and insight. A miracle of invention and economy, played out on a dozen and more meticulously created worlds, the tetralogy is surely one of science fiction's grandest visions of humanity's shared fate with its technology -- not least because of the unforgettable character of Aenea, the young girl (and later, woman) in whose hands lies the future of humankind.
Simmons will return to his Hyperion universe once more in an upcoming novella, part of a set of stories by a select group of science fiction authors who have been asked to revisit their now-classic worlds just one more time. ("If only Herbert and Asimov were still with us," says Simmons, wistfully.) But for now, with the culmination of the preceding novels Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion and Endymion (all Bantam paperbacks) in the current volume, Dan Simmons takes time out to introduce the entire series to new readers and to share some thoughts with his avid fans about The Rise of Endymion.
BookPage: The universe of your four-novel epic is so vast and so fully realized. What was its genesis?
Dan Simmons: It started 25 years ago, when I was teaching elementary school in a small town in Missouri. I first created the Hyperion universe for my students during storytelling hour, little by little, day after day. Later, I incorporated that experience into my story, "The Death of The Centaur" (from Prayers to Broken Stones, Bantam paperback).
BP: There is a deep strain of great literature running through the four novels. It's not hard to recognize the models for many of the things you write: The Canterbury Tales, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and of course, John Keats' poetry. Is it important to you that your readers make those connections? Would you like your books to send readers back to those sources?
DS: I think the readers who know that literature can enjoy pursuing those references, and that can deepen their Hyperion experience -- it certainly did for me. But it's not just a game of finding literary references. In fact, when I first started writing Hyperion, I knew I'd have to deal with Keats' long poems, "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion." I really appreciated his theme of life evolving from one race of gods to another, with one power having to give way to another, as Hyperion must. But I think, and hope, that the novels can be understood and enjoyed as science fiction, on their own terms.
BP: Well, it works nicely on both levels when John Keats' persona appears as a "cybrid" artificial life form in the story!
DS: Yes, that was the idea.
BP: As I understand it, there are three mighty powers which become unleashed throughout the four novels, and which vie together and apart for the soul of humanity: the first is the church, the second is artificial intelligence and I'm not sure what to call the third -- maybe the basic human freedom to choose one's own fate?
DS: That's a good way of putting it.
BP: Let's focus on the first two for the moment: do the futures which you envision for religion and technology in these books reflect a conviction on your part about where those forces are headed? Are they prophecy of a sort?
DS: No, I don't believe in prophecy. They're a story, a development of ideas. I'm very interested in the evolution of technology, and it's really the idea of artificial life which intrigues me, more than just intelligence -- a new, evolving life form arising within our datasphere and coming into living relation with humanity (this is where Keats' theme resonates). As for the depiction of the Catholic church, it's not meant to be a prediction. It's really about what happens whenever religion and power go hand in hand. I'm not anti-church by any means; what interests me is that human beings are almost always corrupted by the control they wield over other human beings. That situation has been especially tragic for religions.
BP: I have a question specifically about the current book, The Rise of Endymion, coming out this month. To me, it's a love story more than anything --
DS: Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that.
BP: -- between Aenea and Raul Endymion. It's a love story against all odds, even against death and time. "Love is a fundamental force in the universe," says Aenea over and over again. That's what she calls "the music of the spheres." How do you hear this music?
DS: Well, I think all the simple things can and do still work -- holding your child's hand while walking across the street will do it. But we can hardly hear it for all the noise which has turned love into a cliche, and most people can't even hear John Lennon's "All You Need Is Love" anymore without wincing.
BP: I know what you mean. It's too bad. I teach a Beatles course at Vanderbilt and we go dangerously into that hokey territory.
DS: Well, I write that way.
BP: Well, I feel that way. And I don't know how to express my gratitude to you. I feel like I'm speaking for countless fans here. You have enriched that feeling for us beyond calculation, and way beyond "hokey-ness." It's more like holiness. It's wholeness, certainly.
DS: Thank you. It's very kind of you to say that.
BP: Thank you for creating so generously and so well.
Michael Alec Rose is a professor of music at Vanderbilt University.