Sunday, January 28, 2007

Book Review: Endymion

Dan Simmons' name was mentioned in a discussion over at Happy Catholic about science fiction and religion. His series (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion) takes on the challenge of religion (several, in fact), life after death, the "humanity" of androids and cyber-human hybrids.

John Keats, the cyber-human hybrid, is a major character. Martin Silenius, the poet, writes an epic poem called Cantos. Two Roman Catholic priests are involved, one who follows Teilhard de Chardin and the other who is more orthodox.

It has been a while since I read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. In fact, I didn't realize, until the discussion on Julie D.'s blog, that Mr. Simmons had written two more novels in the series. So I ordered Endymion and Rise of Endymion from the library and took a chance that I what I didn't remember about Hyperion would be covered it recap.

Most of it seems to be, although there are pieces missing. Had I time, I would probably re-read the entire thing, in order, and the gaps would be filled. However, if I recall correctly, a lot of Fall of Hyperion is recap.

Raul (rhymes with tall) Endymion lives on the planet Hyperion. His family name comes from the city of the same name, which has been abandoned since The Fall. His family are shepherds and stories are handed down orally by Grandam. Since then, Raul has had several jobs, including a stint in the Home Guard and as a hunting guide.

During one of his hunting expeditions, there is a mishap. Raul is condemned to die. Since he has not accepted the cruciform of the One True (Roman Catholic) Church, his death will be permanent. So he is quite surprised to find himself resurrected, in Endymion, at the behest of Martin Silenius, author of the Cantos and one of the original pilgrims to Hyperion.

Raul's task is to find Aenea, the daughter of the cybrid John Keats and his human wife. She alone can discover what happened during the Fall and what happened during the Fall of the WorldWeb and those who maintained it. And, by the way, he also needs to discover the fate of Old Earth.

On the planet of Pacem, headquarters of the Vatican of the Holy Catholic Church, one Father Captain de Soya is given orders to find Aenea and bring her back to the Holy Father, Pope Julian XVI. Julian is Father Lenar Hoyt, also one of the original pilgrims in Hyperion, and he carries not only his cruciform, but that of the second priest who was with him.

Endymion raises a lot of questions about religion and what it means to be human--what it human--and the role of religion and the freedom to practice what you believe. The cruciform, given to all "true believers" ensures that one arises after death. But not all chose to accept that gift. For non-Christian religions, specifically Judaism and Islam, what place can they have in the new world order (called Pax)? And is there a conflict between being a priest and being an officer on a battleship? (In fact, there are now women priests and cardinals.)

I do not like this Catholic Church, although they have preserved all the pomp, circumstance, and artwork associated with the traditional church. In fact, they pray in Latin. But they are souless beings, many of them and remind me of the Church during the time of the early Renaissance--the Borgias and their intrigue.

The poetry and symbolism of John Keats plays an important role in these books and I wish I knew more about them. I feel like I'm just missing something important, some hidden reference, although these stories are really enjoyable reads. I think I'd get more out of them if I had a better background in classical poetry and Classical Greek and Roman symbolism. I am in awe of writers who manage to bring in allusions that I sort of kind of recognize and weave them into the story.

Next up is the Rise of Endymion, which means, of course, the story of Raul, Aenea, the blue android, Bettink, Father de Soya, and Pope Julian continues.

On the March Hare scale: This is a tough one, because it's #3 in a series. But I give it 4 out 5 Golden Bookmarks. Thought provoking and exciting. Starts slowly, build to a crescendo and a logical denoument, for a serial book. ;)