Excessive Candour


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The whole of SF history as a theophany


By John Clute

To begin with, there is no guarantee that this is the end.


The Rise of Endymion, which looks like it might be the final volume of the most intelligent space opera ever written, runs to something over 350,000 words, none of them wasted; but there is no sense, as we hit the last paragraph, that Dan Simmons has gotten tired of his universe. The Rise of Endymion seems to conclude what may be the most complex intelligible story ever told in space opera form--but several micropacked crystalline seeds of plot have been planted in the honeycomb loam of the book's final pages, clearly awaiting the Go signal to explode into new unpackings of story.

Much more remains tellable.

No proper review of The Rise of Endymion could fit into a compressed column. This review is a telegraph. And the message is very simple: read it, read it.

A few pointers.

For readers familiar with the first two volumes of the sequence--Hyperion (1989), which won a Hugo, and The Fall of Hyperion (1990), which should have, both volumes being republished as The Hyperion Cantos--a warning. Don't try to remember every detail of the story of those volumes--the seven pilgrims with seven tales encountering seven fates on the planet Hyperion; the ultimate destruction of the Technocore, comprised of vastly evolved AIs, whose galaxy-spanning home had lain in the interstices of the near infinity of neurons supplied by billions of humans simultaneously using "farcasters," devices which allowed instantaneous travel between the stars; the freeing of the human race, on a thousand planets, from the kind of stasis those who fear the WorldWideWeb in 1997 would like to impose on us.

Lies

Don't try to remember any of this in detail, for two reasons. Simmons is a master of backstory, and anything readers need to know will come to them; more important, most of the underpinning structure and climax of The Hyperion Cantos turn out to have been lies.

In Endymion (1995), which follows on about 270 years later, Simmons reveals that the AIs of the humanity-favouring faction of the Technocore, whose version of events carries the day in the first two volumes, had been lying about everything. Whether this revelation is opportunistic sleight-of-hand or long prepared for by the author is a question whose unravelling could generate an extremely fascinating examination into the nature of Story. The important thing is that it works.

Endymion begins with the arrival at the Time Tombs, 270 years on, of the 12-year-old daughter of Lamia Brawne and an AI/human "cybrid" version of John Keats. Her name is Aenea. Her role will be to free the human race of a reimposed stasis, to end the false immortality of the cruciform (see previous volumes), to give us the music of the spheres.

There is need of her. Aenea has come into a human universe dominated by an interstellar form of government called the Pax, itself under the control of a resurgent Roman Catholic Church, a Church which has reconstructed the whole apparatus of the Curia and the Inquisition in order to rein in all blasphemies of change.

The Church's censorship

Simmons is very clear about all of this. He is quite remarkably savage about certain aspects of Christianity--its censorship of the body and the mind, its panic response to innovation--and his version of the Church constitutes (thankfully) a damningly comprehensive counterblast to what one might call the Leibowitz Con: the treasonous claim that a Church, irradiated by Despite of the grain of the world, could possibly worship and preserve that world--which means not only the archives of that world, but also the attitudes of mind which bask in the dawn chaos of the new.

The Rise of Endymion is centrally about that dawn chaos. But to gain the wisdom it presents--and to make the contempt he feels for the fetters we humans lace like cruciforms into our flesh and souls--Simmons creates a shaped universe of dovetailing stories no review can do more than point at.

Raul Endymion's seemingly casual tour of Jack Vance-like worlds in Endymion turns out not to be casual at all. The machinations of the Pope and his henchmen fit like jigsaw pieces--or black holes--into a plot whose cruelties are immense and priestly, whose joys are vast, architectonic, pagan, reverential. Aenea gradually unfolds what it would be vulgar to call her "powers," though they do operate as such, page-turningly, for thousands of words at a stretch. Part Two of The Rise of Endymion, a book-length sequence set on an intricately described mountain planet, is an exemplary tour de force, an intoxicating lesson in how to story a world, and culminates in a neat coup de theatre.

In the end, through a much vaster coup de theatre (in this case a literal one), Aenea wins the game. Her blood, which all who listen to her have drunk, contains a kind of virus which operates as an opening of the way into the true structure of the universe.

As hinted in the first two volumes, the strong atomic force which binds the universe together and makes it sing is love.

"Choose again."

As Aenea says to the world-resisters and the killers, just as she says to the lovers singing aubades, and the scholars, and the featly trillions of extras: "Choose again."

And the novel ends with a slingshot into joy, earned joy.

Both Simmons and Gene Wolfe have now done something like the same thing. Out of cunning, deep intelligence, love of the genre, privacy and craft, they have assimilated the whole history of science fiction, polished and healed the whole history of science fiction, and retold it.

And this is the same thing they have done. The Book of the New Sun, and the Hyperion/Endymion sequence, are both books about the ends of life (in a previous review, I called The Hyperion Cantos an "entelechy opera"). They are both religious books.

And in each case, the language of religion is conveyed through science fiction. The science fiction of the past. The great told story of 20th century science fiction. Both Wolfe and Simmons give us the whole of SF history as a theophany.

God is the nest we build together.


John Clute is a writer, editor, critic and scholar of science fiction. He is the author of the Hugo Award winning Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, as well as one of the co-founders of the British SF publication Interzone. His criticism and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, Omni, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and other places too numerous to list. His latest book, Look at the Evidence, has been nominated for the 1997 Hugo Award.




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