Endymion by Dan Simmons (1996) 563 p.
I’d heard that the latter books in Simmons’ Cantos series weren’t as good as the first two (the excelllent Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion) so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself thoroughly drawn into this book, reading huge stretches at a time and finishing it in a few days.
Endymion takes place 274 years after The Fall of Hyperion. Following Gladstone’s destruction of the farcaster (teleporter) network, the hundreds of planets of the Hegemony were cut off from each other and plunged into a new Dark Age. Only recently has the “Pax,” a Catholic Church theocracy, begun to once again unite the scattered worlds. The story begins with Raul Endymion, a 27-year old hunting guide on the familiar world of Hyperion, killing a man in self-defence and being sentenced to death for it. Mysteriously rescued and taken to a different continent, he is charged by his benefactor (a returning character from the previous books) with rescuing Aenea, a foreshadowed messiah who will be emerging from the Time Tombs in two days.
The thing about the Cantos is that it has a very complex higher plot, involving AIs and time travel and fate and destiny and all that jazz. Which I never really grasped – like the climax of Neuromancer, I didn’t quite wrap my head around what happened at the end of The Fall of Hyperion. But, again like Neuromancer, I didn’t really care, because the “lower” plot is very enjoyable and comprises the vast majority of the book. Endymion has a few sections talking about the “Godhead” and the Machine God and the role of love and belief and the nature of the universe, etc, but for the most part it’s a fantastic science fiction adventure tale. The bulk of the story involves Raul, Aenea and their android companion A. Bettik (almost a Jim the Negro analog) escaping from their Pax pursuers by rafting down the River Tethys, a river that once ran through two hundred worlds thanks to the farcaster portals (which Aenea can somehow reactivate). Since the Hegemony is one of the most awesome science fiction universes ever written, in my opinion, I was more than happy with this story of high adventure on a dozen different worlds. Half the book is told from Raul’s perspective, and the other half from Father de Soya, a Pax warrior-priest charged with capturing them, who has his own companions in the form of a few surviving spec ops troops from the failed capture attempt on Hyperion. Simmons writes de Soya not as a heartless antagonist, or a demonised religious caricature, but a believable and sympathetic character – in fact, while reading the Raul sections I was rooting for him to escape, and while reading de Soya’s sections I was rooting for him to capture them. If you can make a reader do that, you’re doing something right.
My favourite book, on the whole, is still The Fall of Hyperion – a brilliantly conceived and executed brink-of-war, end-of-the-world, high stakes space opera. And if I had to pick, I’d probably say Hyperion is slightly better than Endymion. But it’s still a great addition to a great series, and I look forward to reading the final book.