The Rise of Endymion

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Novel * Dan Simmons * All You Need Is Love, Apparently * 1997

Synopsis

This is it, this book right here, this is the end of the Hyperion Cantos. Presumably you’ve read the first three novels in this series, or at the very least the previous novel Endymion. I know there are people out there who just pick up random novels in a series, but those people are monsters and I can’t comprehend how they think. Anyway, welcome to the weird final book of this series, in which Dan Simmons blows up his entire universe for the second time. This time, at least, there seems to be more hope for humanity going forward. It can be difficult to parse sometimes, because there are some places in this novel where it feels like the wheels are coming off. There are too may tangents, too much pseudo-Buddhist rambling, too many random characters introduced way too late in the game, and these characters have terrible names with too many consonants. There’s too much retconning of previous plot points, there’s too much padding in what should be a leaner story. Seriously, my version of the novel is 700 pages long and that’s probably 400 too many pages. All that said, there’s reasons to finish the series. No, Simmons doesn’t totally stick the landing – almost nobody ever does. Yes, this last book feels a little self-indulgent, and definitely needed better editing. The novel still struck a chord with me – mostly because of the uneven, occasionally upsetting relationship between Raul and grown-up Aenea – but also because Simmons is still an excellent world-builder. Nothing here is a serious enough transgression to “undo” the previous entries in the series. It’s just not quite as good.

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Ooh, lookit that evil Space Cardinal. France putting in the work once again.

Discussion

Raul Endymion is a bit of a dope. I know this, because he brings it up again and again and again. It’s still hard for me to hate on him as a narrator too much, though. He’s clearly meant to be a mediocre Everyman, a cipher for the reader to witness all the coocoo-banana-beans nonsense going on pretty much all the time. Sometimes, though, I find his narration tiresome. He repeats phrases – I get it, you love Aenea, you don’t need to refer to her as “my darling, Aenea” five thousand times. Ugh, pet peeve. Anyway, I’m not really here to dump on Raul all day. Raul is more than capable of doing that to himself. Despite the obnoxious phrasing, I actually thought his relationship with Aenea is one of the redeeming qualities of the novel. It’s not that she’s a terribly realistic character, because she isn’t. She’s a literal messiah, she can see the future, she’s always acted about twenty years older than she is, and while she has some personality quirks, she’s still a larger-than-life persona. Aenea has always been in charge, while Raul brings up the rear like an obedient Golden Retriever. It makes sense that Raul falls for her, and since Raul has been a constant, loyal presence, it makes sense that she loves him too.

The whole star-cross’d lover thing can fuck me up sometimes. I ain’t too manly to admit it! Rise takes a while to get there, though. The book begins after a moderate time-skip. However, Aenea is still only sixteen, so another time-skip is needed so we don’t feel creepy about these two fucking constantly. As I mentioned above, this book needed some major pruning down, and I feel like the majority of Raul’s solo kayak adventure could have been chucked in the bin. It’s literally a plot device to saddle Raul with enough time-debt to make hooking up with Aenea seem less gross. It may set up the ending, but the whole thing is no less a device. Also, there is a massive disparity of knowledge between Raul and Aenea, and this is the greatest source of tension between the two. This is to say that Aenea always knows everything, and Raul is always in full-on Jon Snow mode. The thing is, Aenea is often kind of shitty about it. She tries to use her age and supposed immaturity to deflect Raul’s anger about constantly being left in the dark, but it’s not convincing, she just sucks when it comes to sharing information and doesn’t seem to recognize the pain it causes. This is actually good character work. I feel it, and when Raul comes back to find Aenea is legal and in love with him, it’s a truly electric moment. It feels earned at that point. The problems in the relationship never go away, either, which is nice. Raul is still barely relevant to the great goings-on, and Aenea still keeps him in the dark about very important things. I think that’s why it works so well, and why the constant emotional roller-coaster hits me right in the feel-basket.

So that’s what I like about The Rise of Endymion, or rather what I like most. Again, I’m mostly positive on this novel, and I still have no reservations recommending the series as a whole. The relationship between these two people is the emotional core of these two books, and the fact that it’s executed well goes a long way. Once you begin to step away from that core, things get a little wiggy around the edges. Other than Raul and Aenea fulfilling their destiny, there’s greater unrest in the world of the Space Catholics. The Pax has made itself even nastier in the four years since the last novel, and have ratcheted up their efforts to control the entirety of humanity even more. Like the medieval Church, they are comfortable with hypocrisy and perpetrating unspeakable horrors upon the general population. Their major sin in this instance is secretly consorting with the A.I.’s of the first two novels – the TechnoCore – and relying upon their help to subjugate the entire human race to the whims of the Church.

Wait a minute, I thought the whole point of the Fall of the Farcasters was to eliminate the Core from human space? The Fall of Hyperion ended with the understanding that the Core was cut off from human space, and thus humans were free from the AI threat since they destroyed the farcaster web which was said to house the AI’s. Sure, but all that was bullshit. At least that’s what we’re told, because Simmons wanted to bring back the TechnoCore as the true threat to human existence. And that’s fine, and the retconning is based on the inaccuracy of Martin Silnus’ poetry and as such is handled fairly elegantly, but it still feels a little weak. Mostly because it introduces a whole bunch of weird philosophical mysticism that doesn’t translate super great into my big space opera, you know? Suddenly the Void That Binds is a major deal, even though I still can’t precisely explain the concept to you, our understanding of the TechnoCore is very different from before. Essentially, the AI’s of the Core are fatally flawed because they are true parasites and cannot fathom the concept of empathy.

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Sorry, France, this competition is over. Behold this masterpiece. Holy shit, it’s amazing. That action kayak!

Now, empathy was a big deal from the first two books. The TechnoCore was said to be developing their own artificial intelligence, only this was to be the Ultimate Intelligence. It’s a computer god. This digital deity has master over space and time and is responsible for trying to wipe humanity out of existence. Humanity, however, has an Ultimate Intelligence of their own, one with a sense of empathy. These two are supposed to fight it out for the future of humanity, but that whole thing has taken something of a backseat. Now we’re concerned with the parasite AI’s, each AI a faction unto itself, and what is referred to as the “Lions, Tigers, and Bears” which sound an awful lot like a race of UI’s apart from the TechnoCore. They give Aenea her magic messiah powers, allowing her to see into the future and to teleport and cool shit like that. The explanation of all this takes many words and many pages and I’m still not sure I’m picking up what Simmons is putting down.

There is a lot of pseudo-religious, philosophical free-wheeling happening in the middle of this book, and what this mostly accomplishes is to slow the narrative down and muddy the waters of the plot enough to make you just accept what’s happening so we can just get on with it already. Maybe there’s people who are really into these lengthy tangents, who use Aenea’s sermons as a launching point to really dig into critical theory and think about the nature of the universe. If so, great. However, the practical consequence of stalling the story to meander in the philosophy weeds is to obfuscate character motivations and inhibit natural storytelling. Plus, we get all of this vague exposition mixed with watered-down Buddhism and in the end we’re basically told that the true catalyst of all action in the universe is love. Fucking love. Just harness the power of love and you can teleport to distant star systems and talk to dead people. Christ. Why don’t we just cue the Huey Lewis and get out of here?

Except I don’t want to end on a down note. Remember, I like these books quite a lot, even if this uneven last novel is the weakest of the four. Space Catholics sound dumb, but they’re quite sinister and their Crusade against the Ousters is brutal. Also, you’re not allowed to hate a novel with an actual Space Pope in it. I do have a bit of a quibble about that, actually. Lenar Hoyt, the evil Space Pope in question, is never given any depth. To be fair, he was never really the focus of his own story way back in Hyperion either, but he’s even flatter as a character here. I have questions about Hoyt’s motives, the most important being why a Hyperion pilgrim would ever embrace the cruciform parasite. Oh well. Meanwhile, Father-Captain de Soya is still cool, and Cardinal Lourdusamy is gross and creepy and great. The AI-android creatures are sadly kind of lame, although I did enjoy Raul winning his fight. There are many cool scenes in this thing, and it’s a shame they sometimes get lost in the midst of all the meandering nonsense.

Okay, time to talk about the ending, and then that’s it for the Hyperion Cantos. Honestly, it’s the very definition of bittersweet, to the point where it’s hard to fathom how poor Raul feels about it. Actually, it’s also weird to see from Aenea’s point of view. Basically, during Raul’s kayak trip and the five years of time-debt he incurred, Aenea was out doing messiah shit. Except for a large chunk of time where she went and got married and did a baby. Now, she tells Raul this earlier in the novel and leaves out the part where the dude she marries is him. As readers, we all know this right away. We may not know the mechanics of the time travel, but we know that the mystery husband is and always has been Raul, even if Raul himself doesn’t. Dramatic irony, people! Anyway, the end of the novel is Raul finding this out last – because, as Raul points out, he’s always the last to know. Anyway, he gets to Old Earth and finds his dead hunny bunny totally not dead and also a year younger and everything clicks for him. That’s all very sweet and I’m glad they get some time together where they’re not being chased by evil Space Catholics, but also there’s a hard time limit on that togetherness. That second-to-last day is gonna be rough, and that makes me sad. Because, after all, Aenea is a messiah, which means she gets martyred, and for that to matter in the universe it needs to stick. Once their year is up, Raul has to go be an apostle. Aenea died and her, I don’t even know, her fuckin mystical love-virus spread throughout the galaxy and Raul has to protect her legacy or something. Yeah, once again the strength of the novel is not actually the nature of humanity’s redemption. I barely understand that. I do understand the nature of Raul and Aenea’s love, though. And that’s enough.

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