The Rise of Endymion

by Dan Simmons

Cover image

Series: Hyperion #4
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: September 1997
Printing: July 1998
ISBN: 0-553-57298-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 709

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Like the close pairing of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, The Rise of Endymion is the completion of the story begun in Endymion. The linkage isn't quite as tight, since Endymion reaches something of a conclusion (which also means that most of the awkward explanation for someone who hasn't read the previous book is thankfully missing), but one still wouldn't want to read this book by itself.

The Rise of Endymion completes the transition started in Endymion and takes the story of the Hyperion universe in a very different direction. This is not a story about interstellar governments or space battles, although both do feature in it. Rather, it is the gospel of a messiah of empathic humanism, set against the backdrop of a space opera universe. If you're not comfortable with the idea of love being a fundamental force of the universe and with the science and technology being backgrounded into a supporting role for the symbology that Simmons is trying to create, you may not like this book.

The symbology impressed me a great deal. Countering the Old Testament world of politics, war, vengeance, and collapse found in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, Aenea's philosophy focuses on individuals and their relationships, on trust, communities, forgiveness, redemption, and non-violent resistance. Instead of violence, it focuses on love, and more broadly on connections between people, on fostering and creating life. The story is told in the form of a gospel, a first-person account written by her companion and lover, and Catholic and Christian imagery is used extensively throughout. The traditional form of Church rituals are a centerpiece of the Pax church, which lays claim to Catholic tradition while underneath is an exercise in cynical technology. Aenea's rituals are superficially ways of interacting with physical laws and science, but take on the form of those same Christian rituals, redeeming them for something closer to their spiritual purpose. It's neatly done; I kept finding more parallels the more I analyzed the story.

I'm not sure how obvious this would be to someone without a lot of background in Christian symbolism and metaphor, but Simmons creates a philosophy that feels right within that context while not adopting the same principles. Aenea's life and teaching methods parallel the stories of Jesus, making similar moral points and frequently producing echos that will cause the reader familiar with Christian mythology to nod in recognition. Unique to fiction, however, Aenea has the advantage of having a spirituality that can produce obvious and measurable effects on the world, and Simmons uses this to change the moral struggle from one of faith to the choice between safe, controlled, and artificial existence and uncontrolled, dangerous, and dynamic life, a leap of faith of a very different and more humanist kind.

This story is still told against the backdrop of a space opera world, a revolution against a star-spanning empire featuring a memorable mountain world and a Dyson sphere. (If you're afraid of heights, this book will make your palms sweat in several places.) Quite a few of the details of just what was happening during The Fall of Hyperion are explained (along with a fair bit of retconning, using the same technique as Endymion to declare parts of the original story to be made up or mistaken). The technology isn't as credible as it was in Hyperion or The Fall of Hyperion, though. It's not the point of the book, and serves mainly to set up the mythical symbolism of the story.

I can come up with many reasons why someone would dislike this book. The retconning is blatant at times, 200 pages could have been trimmed from the book (I never did understand the point of the geography tour and list of names on T'ien Shan), parts of it meander badly, the technology and physics are often frankly unbelievable, and the viewpoint character can be quite stupid at times. And yet, I love this book. Aenea is one of my favorite fictional characters, and that's an amazing feat for a character who is cast in the role of messiah, carrying with it both foreknowledge and near-infallibility. Throughout the story she exudes an enthusiastic joy and love of life that's infectious and delightful to read. She also has the best two-word mission statement of any religious figure I've read about.

This book reminds me of what Star Wars could be if it had more fully developed a humanist philosophy around the Force and explored the implications for the universe of something like the Force existing. There is a space opera plot over underlying mysticism, lush world-building focusing on images and impressions rather than geology and planetary physics, and odd cultures tucked into the corners of the galaxy (although Simmons puts more depth into his; I found the Amoiete Spectrum Helix fascinating). The ending, though, puts Star Wars to shame; even knowing exactly what was coming, this being my second reading, I loved the twists and emotional climax of it.

It's a shame that Endymion and the beginning of this book are okay but not great. It requires some wading to get to the best parts of the story. In memory, this was one of the best books I've read, but on re-reading, there are enough weak points that I can't say that. The good points are so memorable, though, that best or not, it remains one of my favorites.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-12-28

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