Monday, May 13, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 8

The eighth book I've read for my 2013 Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge is Ilium, by Dan Simmons. I read Simmons' Hyperion Quartet in 2011, and I count it among my favorite SF series EVAH. When I saw a new SF duology by Simmons in the used book store, I squealed a little. But then I doubted. Like the Hyperion novels, these books were long. And the blurb made it sound pretty wacky: Greek gods on Mars? Resurrected warriors reenacting the Iliad? I dunno about this. Could I really love another Simmons series as much as I loved Hyperion?

Silly rabbit. Of course I could.

The thing about Simmons is that I have no idea whether to recommend him or not. You and I could have significant overlap in our reading tastes, and you could still hate Simmons. I can definitely see that he's not everyone's cup of tea. These are long and sometimes ponderous epics, and he shoves everything in there he can make fit: multiple story lines, wild-ass science, philosophical musings, space travel, disgustingly graphic violence, friendship, romance, monsters, robots, the end of the world, and weighty literary analysis.

Given all that, his books are difficult to describe, which is what makes them sound kind of dumb on the blurb. But I'll give it a try. Ilium is a braid of three story lines: in the first, a twentieth-century classics professor has been somehow reanimated by supremely powerful beings in the form of the Greek gods, and is tasked with observing their reenactment of the Trojan war and reporting any deviations from Homer's account; in the second, four utopia-dwelling humans go on a quest and discover some of what humanity has lost; in the third, two autonomous, sentient robot friends from the Jovian moons deal with the aftermath of a mission gone wrong.

All the Simmons novels I've read have a deep interest in Great Literature underlaying them. (Hyperion was modeled after Canterbury Tales.) In this book, the Iliad is obviously a key work, constantly referenced as the events are retold (and invented, as the war eventually takes a different course than Homer's version). But there is also discussion of Shakespeare's sonnets, The Tempest, and Proust's Remembrance.

Actually, I think the easiest way to sum up why I loved this book so hard is a description from the Dramatis Personae page of the character of Orphu:

8-ton, 6-meter-long, crab-shaped, heavily armored hard-vac moravec who works in the sulfur-torus of Io; Proust enthusiast.

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