Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book Review: The Rise of Endymion

This is the final book in the series that began with Hyperion. In The Rise of Endymion, Dan Simmons not only ties up the loose ends flapping around in the first three books, he also takes on the challenge of explaining what, exactly, makes up The Void That Binds. To do this, Mr. Simmons draws on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and throws in a little bit of the Grand Unification Theory of physics just for good measure.

The Catholic Church plays a significant role in this universe, although its a Church quite removed from the one we currently have. The Church is the ruling authority on most of the inhabited worlds, maintaining control by the ironically named Pax--the military arm of the Church. Priests can be male or female and can be warriors as well as spiritual leaders.

Part of the Church's authority comes from the cruciforms, symbiont's or parasites that live inside humans and are used to resurrect them from the dead. In fact, this act of resurrection has become the eighth sacrament.

Not everyone accepts this gift nor the Church's authority. Jews, Muslims, other Christian and Catholic sects, and Buddhists have emigrated to various worlds during the Hegira away from "Old Earth." The Pax come after them all. Those they cannot convert, they kill.

The Pax also kills humans who have used biotechnology to adapt themselves to outer space. During one of these raids on the "Ousters," Father Captain de Soya and his crew realize that they are killing children and infants. They rebel against the Pax and begin a series of guerrilla raids against their former friends.

Previously, Father de Soya had been sent out to kidnap the girl, Aenea, who is the offspring of a human woman and a cybrid of John Keats, the English poet. Although the cybrid was killed before Aenea was born, he was able to download his memories and implant them in Aenea's mother. His memories whispered and instructed Aenea during her gestation, imparting her with wisdom far beyond that of humans.

At the end of Endymion, Aenea and her companions--Raul Endymion, who has been entrusted to protect her, and the android, A. Bettick--have arrived on Old Earth and have found Taliesin West, the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. Or the construct of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the compound, Aenea learns to build and Raul learns more about his charge. All good things must come to an end, however, and Aenea sends Raul off on his own, telling him to find their ship (left behind on a previous world) and to meet her at world called T'ien Shan. There are things she must do which do not involve Raul.

Much like The Odyssey, Raul travels through several different worlds before finding the ship and returning to Aenea. Because of the physics of space travel, he has only aged a few months, while she has aged several years. Aenea is now an architect of note and also has a gathering of students, including the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama, who come from all over this world to hear her lectures, to ask her questions, and to receive communion of her blood.

These lectures provide the opportunity for Mr. Simmons to show off some of his knowledge of major religions and to expound on what really makes up the "black matter" that keeps our universe tied together. This part of the book--and the other sections like it--were heavy going.

Meanwhile, back at the Vatican...

Once a person receives communion with Aenea, they can no longer wear the cruciform. Death is the true death--there is no resurrection. The Church's authority is threatened as well as the fate of all humanity. The Church sees Aenea as a virus which must be stopped. And they make a bargain with the "devil" to do it.

Humans, it seems, are merely pawns in a much larger game and the players include some who are decidedly not human.

And humans of this far future are just as venial, greedy, lustful after power, as those of the present day.

Oh, yeah... there is the poet, Martin Silenus, who is writing his Cantos, an epic prose-poem about the adventures of the original group on the Shrike Pilgrimage and their off-spring. He is nearly a thousand years old and is anxious to complete his opus. Will Raul complete his mission so Martin can write the ending? Will Martin live long enough?

The Rise of Endymion was copyrighted in 1997, so parts of it seem a bit dated. The way the Catholic Church evolved bothers me--it's a Church that has kept much of its pomp and circumstance and traditions, but without understanding why these traditions are important. Would the Church make up a sacrament that had not come down from Christ? Would the Church revert to the military church of the Renaissance?

I think not, based on the papacies of the last half of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. I pray not.

Endymion and The Rise of Endymion need to be read together. Enough backstory is included that the book will probably make some kind of sense if you haven't read Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. I read the first two about ten years ago (or more) and reading the summary on Amazon brought back most of the main themes of the novels. If you know something of John Keats and his poems, Hyperion and Endymion, which I don't, you may get more of the symbolism and the structure of these stories.

These novels have lots of theories ripe for discussion, as well as some terrific action scenes and descriptions of strange new worlds. Might be interesting for a book club, especially one with a scientific/philosophical bent.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks