Hyperion by Dan Simmons is an interesting book in a number of ways. It’s a sendup of the Canterbury Tales, replete with references to Keats. The majority of the story focuses on the seven pilgrims making a trip to the world of Hyperion to visit the Shrike, which is apparently set to extinguish life in the universe. They’re there to try to either sacrifice themselves in the hopes of stopping the Shrike, or overpowering it themselves directly. The pilgrims all realize that they each have deep, dark secrets, and if they’re going to bare their souls before the Shrike, they should know everything there is about each other before facing an all-powerful being. And so we launch into the Priest’s Tale, the Soldier’s Tale, and so on.
The premise is pretty thin, if not slightly ridiculous, but the storytelling more than makes up for it (despite the fact that Simmons occasionally gets a little carried away with his prose. A sky is always lapis, for example).
Each of those tales is marked by a mysterious, unexplained event that borders on mysticism. Not exactly hard sci-fi.
By far the most compelling is the Scholar’s Tale, which focuses on Sol Weintraub and his daughter, Rachel, who was studying something known as the Time Tombs, when she was affected by an unexplained occurrence. As a result, Rachel is aging backward in time. Benjamin Button this ain’t, for as Rachel grows younger, she loses her memories, and Sol is forced to watch his daughter’s identity slowly unravel every morning when she wakes up, and over time, loses the traits and knowledge that makes Rachel, Rachel.
This book could be read as a standalone, but it’s clearly meant to be read with The Fall of Hyperion, the next in the series. It’s also an example of what science fiction does best – it can flesh out an allegorical message into actual plot events. No starship troopers blowing up aliens on a pock-marked desolate battlefield here. Even the soldier isn’t exempt from the mysterious and unexplained.