The world of Hyperion is a minor backwater protectorate in the Hegemony of Man some 700 years into our future. The Hegemony spans some 200 worlds all interconnected with farcaster portals allowing instantaneous travel. Humankind has not encountered any significant alien resistance and the semi-sentient alien life it has encountered has invariably suffered extinction or close to. Hyperion is special because it is the home to the Time Tombs and the Shrike. The Tombs appear to be moving backward in time and the Shrike is a huge humanoid torturer. The Church of the Shrike sponsors a pilgrimage to the Tombs where all but one member will be killed by the Shrike, with the one remaining pilgrim granted their wish.
This book is about the seven pilgrims and the personal histories they tell while on route to the Tombs. Through their stories not only do we learn of their motivations and personal histories but also much of the world building is accomplished. This all occurs while the pilgrims travel to and through Hyperion which is also becoming the setting of an interstellar war between the Hegemony and Oousters, a splinter group of humans who live outside of the Web Worlds. Very little is said or known about the Oousters.
I enjoyed this book, though in fairness Hyperion is only really half a story. It ends with the 6 remaining pilgrims walking abreast towards the Time Tombs (while singing the Wizard of Oz theme!). There are many loose ends and the author himself admits that Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are a single book, only split up because of the realities of the publishing industry. Hence the story ends not knowing the fate of the pilgrims, nor the purpose of the Shrike while on the verge of war with the Oousters. One gets the sense by the end of the book, especially after the Consul’s story, that the Hegemony may actually be the antagonist (ecologically exploitive) with the Oousters living a more virtuous existence.
This kind of narrative is a frame story and consists of several short interconnected stories. Canticle and Gods Themselves are similar in structure though the simultaneous stories of the pilgrims does lend itself to effective world building. There is also plenty of foreboding – with the eventual arrival of the Shrike, Rachel aging backwards (Scholar’s Tale) to eventual nothingness (?), impending war, the Shrike as muse (Poet’s Tale) – is the poet Martin actually writing the Hyperion Cantos we’re reading right now?
Dan Simmons as an English teacher uses a lot of literary references. Hyperion itself is structured very similarly to the Canterbury Tales. Furthermore extensive references to the poet John Keats are made even so far as modelling a cybrid (physical human controlled by a disembodied artificial intelligence). At times it seems the references are excessive, but they do have a place in Hyperion (since at time time an artists colony was established there).