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jlgill has commented on (2) products.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

jlgill, August 4, 2012

Like the Canterbury Tales, Hyperion is a frame tale; a series of stories within a story. Not a fan of Middle English literature? No worries-- the similarities end there. Hyperion follows a group of extra-planetary pilgrims to the world of Hyperion, chosen for a final pilgrimage to petition the planet's mythical inhabitant, the Shrike, Lord of Pain, for a wish. According to myth, only one pilgrim will survive the encounter, and so each-- a preist, a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a detective, and a consul-- tells the story of how they came to make the journey, and why, in the hopes that this information may somehow aid them in determining the outcome of their fateful meeting with the Shrike. The novel is largely made up of these consecutive tales, and I became fully immersed in each in turn.

Simmons is a master of narrative voice, as his characters (archetypes, really) each tell of the horrors, mysteries, and losses that led them to seek the Shrike. There are many mysteries in Hyperion, each unfolding slowly in the course of the pilgrims' tales. What is the Shrike, and why has it started ranging--and killing--beyond its former region? Why are the "space barbarian" Ousters attacking the planet Hyperion? Is one of the pilgrims a spy? We also learn, in exposition deftly woven into the narrative of the fall of Old Earth, the establishment of the World Web and the TechnoCore, the Church of the Shrike, and the interstellar Hegemony government that governs the World Web. Simmons doesn't tell, he shows-- gradually, teasingly, and masterfully.

Hyperion is the sort of book I'd like to hand to folks who say they don't like science fiction, and say "THIS. This is what SF can be like!" It was an absolute joy to experience. I listened to the audio on a long car trip and found myself transfixed, wanting to stay on the road "for just another hour" so that I could prolong the fun. I implored my closest friends to read it right away, so I would have someone to talk about it with. It's the sort of book that both rivets you in the moment, and sticks with you for days afterwards.
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Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas: A Novel

jlgill, January 3, 2010

When asked to name the best book I read in the last decade, this one came to mind immediately. It had some fierce competition from the likes of Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy, but several things about Cloud Atlas make it stand out as a singularly important novel. The author not only masters six distinct voices in six different periods, but does so using five different narrative techniques; the Victorian travel journal of a barrister in the Pacific, the letters from a bisexual expatriot composer to his lover, a mystery novel set in the 1970's, the memoirs of an aged publisher's escape from a home for the elderly, the interviews of a near-future clone bred to work in fast-food in the Korean "corpocracy," and the far-future oral history of a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian islander. In lesser hands the result could have been a lot of heat but no light, but Cloud Atlas evokes Nietzche's Eternal Return, weaving narratives together to explore the very nature of Being.
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