14/08/2003. Contributed by Jessica Martin
Dan Simmons new SF space opera novel seems to be missing something ... like an ending.
Here at the 'Nest we've just finished reading the new Dan Simmons science fiction epic, Ilium.
Being big fans of his previous SF novels - the Hyperion series of books - our expectations were set high, and largely the novel doesn't disappoint ... although we do have some serious nits to pick.
First off the novel - at least the Gollancz SF British edition - makes no mention on the jacket (or interior) that we could locate, that this is only the first part of a duology. During the last 50 pages the only thing on our mind was 'crikes: how on earth is Dan going to wrap up this story in the next few chapters?'
The ending was ambiguous enough that we weren't sure if Dan was simply signing off the novel with a Butch & Sundance-style off-camera grand finale and this was all there was, or if DS was actually going to follow-up with a sequel.
Where the reader is cheated out of an ending in this manner, the marketing gonks normally insert a chapter from the forthcoming sequel, or at least a Bond-style 'Thomas Hockenberry will return in The Man With the Golden Iliad'. But in this edition all we get is a very unsatisfactory fadeout that leaves the reader thinking DS is the worst master of literary endings on the globe.
However, a bit of research on www.dansimmons.com reveals the following quote:
"The book is scheduled to be released July 22, 2003. Ilium is the first half of a two-volume epic to be concluded in Olympus, currently scheduled to be delivered to Harper Collins later this year."
Perhaps making us work like this is a clever marketing ploy to get us to interact with the 'product' ... or perhaps not.
Our second nit is the Gollancz cover. Maybe we're thick, but it took us halfway through the novel to realize that the Greek helmet on the jacket is also actually meant to be a sunrise over a terraformed Mars. E.g. when we got to the bit in the book that talks about a terraformed Mars, the light slowly began to dawn. Hmmm. Any cover that has to be explained...
Most readers are going to look at this and think, ohhh, a nice historical tale set in ancient Greece then. So unmemorable is the cover, that despite actively looking for the novel, we missed the book during our first expedition to the Forbidden Planet Oxford Street; a second expedition had to be mounted only after we had looked up the cover on Amazon.co.uk to be able to pick it from the shelves.
Nits aside, Ilium is another worthy page-turner from Mr Simmons, featuring three interconnected stories running in parallel.
On Jupiter's moons, a race of human-created, and very human AIs sends an A-Team (or should that be ABC Warrior team) of bizarre robots to Mars to see what the heck is the matter with the Red Planet.
On Mars itself a group of ever-so-slightly bonkers super-human types are playing around with parallel universes, time travel and quantum physics to recreate the Trojan War with themselves playing the part of the Greek gods (extra points if you can name the Trek episode with the similar plot).
The main hero in this thread is a resurrected 21st century human professor of classics, one Thomas Hockenberry, who is forced to fag for the tyrannical gods, alongside other Iliad-buffs also kidnapped from the time-stream.
The third line of action is on Earth, where a pampered human overclass are kept in idle luxury by an odd mixture of robots and aliens who are either the human's slaves ... or perhaps Morlock-style captors.
Here, the first human to teach himself to read for a thousand years embarks on a mission to try and find a spaceship to contact the post-humans; the evolved descendents of mankind who buggered offworld eons ago (to think great thoughts et al).
All three tales angle together by the end in various surprising ways ... which we obviously won't drop in as spoilers for you.
True buffs may want to plump for the alternative US edition with the far, far superior Gary Ruddell cover - Gary did the original US covers for the Hyperion-saga novels.
Even more avid collectors might want to hold on for the Subterrean Press limited edition of Ilium with cover painting by Barry Moser.
Ilium is a 10 out of 10 star novel once you get over the extraneous production issues.
Add it to your must-read list now.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA