“Dan Simmons is a stud.”
So said my high-school-English-teacher brother, after a friend had recommended one of Simmons’ books to me.
My brother was referring (I would soon find out) to Simmons’ writing abilities and to his raging intellect.
Before encountering Simmons, the only science fiction books I’d ever read were The Sparrow (which is one of my all-time favorite books and sort of defies genres: you can read my post about it here) and Ender’s Game.
I am not at all, in other words, a sci-fi connoisseur. But when my brother speaks about writing, I listen.
So first, I went onto Simmons’ web site, and found his series on “Writing Well.” Within a couple of paragraphs, I knew that A. Simmons was whip-smart (which goes a long way, with me) and B. He’s an excellent, very coherent (if a bit long-winded) (okay, VERY long-winded) writer.
From the little I’ve managed to read of his writing tips, they’re really “good stuff.” Here’s the link. As soon as I get a huge chunk of free time (cough) (snort), I intend to print them out and read through them.
Anyway, after looking at his site, I went to the library and checked out Simmons’ most famous book, Hyperion (the first book of a sci-fi trilogy.)
And I started reading.
And, holy smoke.
Simmons doesn’t write exquisite prose, like Leif Enger or Alice Munro or dozens of other writers I could name.
He doesn’t have Stephen King’s editing genius. (Although that fact is not nearly as evident in this book, as it is in some of his others.)
But – holy smoke.
Simmons is by far the most intellectually brilliant novelist I’ve ever read. And, probably, the most imaginative.
Hyperion (in a teeny, tiny nutshell) is the story of seven pilgrims who travel to a distant planet to confront the Shrike, a seemingly omnipotent creature who is threatening the whole galaxy. As they journey there, the book explains each of their back stories in turn.
And, holy smoke.
(I’m so sorry to be redundant, but what Simmons did in this book still boggles my mind. “I am extremely boggled!”) (Ten points if you get the movie reference.)
In one long chapter per character, Simmons gives you such a complete, complex, unique background for each person, you would swear it had taken him years and years to build each intricate story.
You would also swear that Simmons is an expert on religion, art, philosophy, literature, poetry, technology, mechanics, law enforcement, and so on and so forth.
Ah, but before you can even get to these pilgrims’ stories, you will read through the “journal” of a priest who had already traveled to Hyperion and encountered – well – I really can’t say.
But those sixty-odd pages of his journal may be the most riveting, exciting, horrifying pages I’ve ever read.
The priest’s ultimate fate is so terrifying, it’s as though Simmons’ had been granted some sort of biblical visitation to Hell, and then returned to write about it.
This book isn’t for everyone, of course. If you like, say, Karen Kingsbury novels, I don’t think you’d like this story.
But man, what a ride it was. In fact, although it is not at all the best book I’ve read in the last ten years, it is probably the only one I would be willing to read a second time. Just for the thrill of it.
Side note: Simmons writes in many genres. Hyperion was, astonishingly, his first full-length sci-fi novel. I’ve since tried to read two of his other novels, Drood and The Terror. I didn’t get very far into either of them, because they were both library books and I ran out of time to read them – did I mention how long-winded Simmons is?
How I wish he could sit down with Stephen King and discuss editing. Excessive writing didn’t bother me so much, pre-babies – but I have SO little time to read now, I’m especially sensitive. If you want to capture my attention for upwards of 1000 pages, these days, they’d better be spell-binding.
But again, I didn’t run into that problem while reading Hyperion.
Please note: this book does not always contain “church” language.