Ilium and Olympos, by Dan Simmons (2003-2005).
After having enjoyed the Hyperion Cantos so much I decided to read more of Dan Simmons’ work. These two books are actually one very long book cut in two parts and it tells the intertwined stories of different characters. One arc tells the story of Hockenberry, a Homeric scholar that has been revived by a race of post-humans (who happen to pose as the Greek gods) to supervise their reenactment of the Trojan War. Another tells about of Ada, Harman, Hannah and Daeman, who are old-school humans, as opposed to post-humans, and live in an oblivious state in a half-deserted Earth. The last arc is about Mahnmut and Orphu, a sort of cyborgs that do menial mining work in the moons of Jupiter and enjoy literary analysis of old Earthling authors in their free time.
Much like the Hyperion Cantos, it relies heavily on intertextuality, and while in the latter it worked quite well, in this it’s much more obvious and as much a good idea as wrestling a grizzly bear just with your hands. This throws in much of the classical Greek pantheon (with guest starring from its Roman versions, such as Penthesilea), Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Setebos upon Caliban and everything is sprinkled with some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Marcel Proust. Not in the sense that a lot of literary references were in the Cantos and John Keats happened to be a character, I mean virtually every character is transplanted from these literally.
I found it much, much worse than the Hyperion Cantos. The writing, the style, was good, it was impossible that it wasn’t, but I can’t say the same about the pacing or the length. These don’t have the charisma, thrill and sense of wonder that the Cantos have, and that is forgivable, the big problem here is, for one part, they’re much too long. They keep repeating themselves, giving redundant information and filling paragraphs and paragraphs of uninteresting descriptions (seriously, when he starts listing characters from the Iliad and who their father was and so on I wanted to throw the book out of the window). It looks like Simmons either thinks that his readers are idiots and need everything reminded and spelled out at all times or he’s just so in love with the sound of his own words that he can’t stop. To think that people say that Stephenson digresses a lot… And much worse: they’re utterly unoriginal. I can’t stress enough that they read like glorified fanfiction. I spent half of the time Simmons devotes to the Greek part of the story thinking: ‘okay, let me finish this soon so I can go and read some Ovid’. Most of the characters are bastaridizations of other people’s characters (mostly the reason I wanted to throw the book out of the window. If you’re going to shove something down my throat at least make it your own junk.) And the few original ones are not that exciting. To sum it up, pretentious, shallow and boring.
Not to say that the actual plot is just a pile of trash whether you look at it closely or not. ***SPOILERS*** The post humans started reenacting the Trojan War in order to appease Setebos’ hunger for misery but since they are post-literate they actually don’t know how it ends so they start reviving Homer scholars? Seriously, what kind of deranged person can think that’s a good plot? I was really surprised that the same person who wrote the Hyperion Cantos could also write this. Furthermore, I was surprised after reading part of his Writing well to find out that Mr. If-You-Haven’t-Read-All-Of-Hemingway-You-Don’t-Deserve-To-Be-A-Writer went on and wrote this. People keep asking me how I had the guts to finish this. I just wanted to know if it could get worse than it was already. And it didn’t disappoint.
CROWNING MOMENTS OF RIDICULOUS: ***SPOILERS***
When the Setebos spawn hatches from the egg and the best they can think of is walking it around on a fucking leash, only to have it starting to suckle misery from the ground, is comedy gold.
When they tell Hockenberry that he could QT without his medallion, and then, to add insult to injury Hephaestus lampshades it by saying: ‘it was your Dumbo feather’. Seriously, man, that’s cheap. And unnecessary to the plot, actually.
Behold the old submarine loaded with black holes! I’ll let that sink in. And also it’s radioactive! For no reason! Well, yes, to be able to describe Harman shitting his bowels until Mahnmut and Orphu casually stroll by and take him to the magical sarcophagus.
And last but not least: Sycorax ex machina, or how to make the evil brain with legs of doom disappear with a flick of your hand. If we stop talking about him we don’t need to explain where he went.