“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.
12 thoughts on “Dan Simmons Is A Stud”
Believe it or not, Dan writes short fiction. I like Prayers to Broken Stones. I just pulled it out and I have brief notes in the Table of Contents. If you want to try his Horror, the place to start is Carrion Comfort. Prayers to Broken Stones has a short story version. I should stick this in the mail to you. But not until after I read it again.
I did not know that! Pls send. And thanks for introducing me to Hyperion!! One of the most intriguing and original things I’ve read in a long time.
OK. Now I have to read “Hyperion”! I have only read (everything on) his website. Your post *really* makes me want to read him.
Then my work here is done. 🙂
I see you at Kathy’s and All the Church Ladies so I thought I’d stop by. This is the 2nd thing I have read today regarding science fiction and fantasy. Golly, should I take the plunge? I have such an active imagination that the characters often move-in with me. Right into my house. I wonder if they like almond butter on apples or if they prefer baths over showers, so if a book is full of characters that’ll give me the willies, I’ll have to decline…
Thanks for the other links too.
I’ve got another friend who’s like that (with books getting too “real” for her, sometimes…) It’s hard for me to relate to that, so I never know when to steer people away from things! This book is very much a thriller…pretty intense…so maybe it’d be too much for you??
Speaking (sorta) (not really) of butters, at Lifegroup last night a friend brought apple slices with this dip made of peanut butter, sugar, toffee pieces, and I don’t know what else. But possibly cocaine. Because we could not stop eating it!
Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Your experience last night likely had something to do with the “ghrelin response” — how your body gets tricked into thinking its hungry by coating the tongue’s receptors with fats and sugars and such. (I do have a degree in School & Community Health Education and I can pretend really well to know exactly what I am talking ’bout.) Anyway, I’ll take the dip and pass on the book for now.
Thanks for sharing something worth hyperventilating over! It is always a joy to read your when posts when you appear obviously excited or when you are marvelling over a discovery…Simmons should you pay you for this one! I think that the great sci-fi stories are particularly compelling since the authors are often freed to tackle complicated issues without this planet’s gravity. Even if I don’t agree with the conclusions (which most often I do not) the intellectual gymnastics are most often invigorating.
Aha! Have you read Hyperion? Grant is reading it now (I loaned it to him.)
Thanks for reading my stuff…it means a lot to me. And yes…I get very enthused about a great many things (especially books and science.) It’s hard not to! 🙂
If you have any fav sci-fi books, tell me what they are. I like what I’ve read, so far. It’s kind of like “The Wizard of Oz” for adults.
I do have a few favorites, but enjoy Stephen R. Lawhead. He writes from a distinctly Christian worldview AND he writes very well (a rarity as you are aware). His material comes mostly from the Celtic lore. My favorites from him are Byzantium (not sci-fi), The Song Albion Series and his truly full-fledged sci-fi novel Empyrion. Great stories, well written with much to capture the imagination and stir the thought process.
Actually, HYPERION is the first half of a long novel. The second half is THE FALL OF HYPERION, both books taking their titles from long poems by Keats, with the first book using the structure of (you guessed it) “the Canterbury Tales”. So you should read HYPERION and THE FALL OF HYPERION back to back to get the full impact of this space opera. And if you enjoy those “companion novels”, Simmons followed them up with another set: ENDYMION and THE RISE OF ENDYMION, which take place 200-300 years _after_ the first adventure (only _one_ of the original characters is still living — SF, ocassional “cryo-storage”-type stuff is the explanation), and the beast (the Shrike) is back as well. But the two, new, main characters — Raul Endymion and Aenea — in this second part of the “Hyperion Cantos” are both fairly interesting, too. And the futuristic Pax (involving the Catholic church and the hegemony) is, likewise, interesting.
Other than those books, if you wan to read the _best_ of Simmons, check out: SONG OF KALI (literary thriller set in India), PHASES OF GRAVITY (mainstream, with thriller elements), CARRION COMFORT (psychic vampires, and a tour de force, along the lines of the “Hyperion Cantos”), SUMMER OF NIGHT (Simmons’s take on the Bradbury/Stephen King school of horror involving kids and coming-of-age), A WINTER HAUNTING (a sort of sequel to “Summer” with Henry James overtones, as well as ghosts — imagined? or real? — that should be read right after the first book for full impact) and, last but not least, THE CROOK FACTORY, an excellent literary, Spy/thriller that makes use of Hemingway (and some things he actually did) while he lived in Cuba during WWII.
After that, things get, well…spotty…mostly because Simmons seems to have lost his unerring, story-telling abilities sometime after the turn of the century. ILIUM and OLYMPOS, another set of “companion” novels, try to take onto Virgil and Homer and the Trojan war (and Nabakov’s ADA) via some truly strange SF stuff that takes place on Mars and Titan, and…well, it all gets jumbled (the “Tempest”, Shakespeare and several other literary greats are suddenly thrown into the mix, right when Simmons is most confused), and then references to Muslims and Jews and such start cropping up, and the whole thing goes to hell-in-a-handbasket.
THE TERROR is about…4/5ths of good novel (yes, there are times that it seems to move slow, but given the setting — the Franklin Expedition, trapped in Arctic ice — it feels apropos). Worth a read if you finish all the classics and want a bit more. DROOD starts out with a great premise, and a truly great, slimy, _fictional_ version of Wilkie Collins (who assists Charles Dickens), but after setting up an ominious mood, Simmons takes the plot…nowhere. BLACKHILLS is _extremely_ didactic (to the point that Simmons actually devotes an entire _chapter_ — instead of a page or two — to the building of a bridge. Eh.) And the latest, FLASHBACK, is drenched in crazy, rightwing politics and reads like a book Glenn Beck might’ve dreamed up (plotwise) while getting help from Sarah Palin on the writing (the dialogue ranges from laugh out loud — the first sentence of the book — to really bad).
As for other books in Simmons’s oeuvre:
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT– not bad for throwaway thriller, and it features some characters (grownup) from “Summer”). The plot deals with vampires and the _real_ Dracula (Vlad Tsepes_ )
FIRES OF EDEN — another fun, throwaway thriller, which takes place in Hawaii, and deals with old polynesian gods (and modern day criminals), with more “Summer” characters making an appearance as adults
THE HOLLOW MAN — Simmons’s first attempt at a serious, breakthrough, mainstream-cum-fantasy novel. It was based on “the Inferno”, and used some elements from Alfred Bester’s SF classic, _The Demolished Man_, in the climax. It was an interesting book; but, ultimately, came off as too removed, too clinical (what was needed was more of an emotional, Speilberg-type connection to the characters, and between author and reader).
DARWIN’S BLADE — This is Simmons’s _worst_ book (the second worst would have to be FLASHBACK): another attempt a at mainstream thriller, it centered on an insurance investigator — who could drive fast, fly planes, shoot just about every known weapon, and knew everything about everything (a low-rent James Bond), and whose cases resemble…just about everything one can find on the Urban myths site online! LOL I think Simmons got lazy, wrote this one in a hurry, and only then realized that people could look up all of the stuff he cheated on (and the cardboard, cliched protagonist, and his likewise lady lover, didn’t help).
The Joe Kurtz novels: HARDCASE, HARD-AS-NAILS, HARD FREEZE. Featuring a sort of Mickey Spillane-type hero, these over-the-top, tough guy crime novels aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. So if you read them, park your brain.
Short story collections: PRAYERS TO BROKEN STONES: Just about every story in this collection (“Carrion Comfort”, “Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams”, “Remembering Siri”, “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites”, etc.) evolved into a novel of some sort. LOVEDEATH: in my book, this is Simmons’s best short fiction collection, and, once again, half of the novellas (“Sleeping With Teeth Women”, “Flashback”, “Entropy’s Bed at Midnight”) are forerunners (if not in narrative, in some of the ideas) for his later novels. The last novella — “The Great Lover”– along with “Entropy”, is one of Simmons’s finest. WORLDS ENOUGH & TIME: with the exception of “Looking For Kelly Dhal”, another classic (in which a teacher and a student cross barriers of time & space and dimension while playing a sort of lethal game of cat & mouse), the stories in this book fall into the post year 2000 category of writing for Simmons — from so-so (“Orphans of the Helix”) to really bad (“The Ninth of Av”, which is connected, in it’s narrative, to the ILIUM/OLYMPOS companion novels).