by Dan Simmons
review by John W. Herbert
Suffice it to say, Dan Simmons does not write small science fiction books. His Hyperion Cantos surely rank as one of the best examples of galaxy building (as well as galaxy destruction and reconstruction) in the genre. Now he begins a new series as big and complex as his earlier masterwork.
As in Hyperion, in his new novel Ilium Simmons once again draws inspiration from classical literature, this time drawing on the works of Homer instead of Keats. Ilium opens with four storylines; the battle of Troy is being observed by human historians, plucked out of time by the Greek gods who have given them amazing technology to observe the battle undetected (Zeus, it seems, has read Homer, and wants to make sure the battle goes by the book); then there’s the all the political intrigue going on at the god’s home on Olympos (it seems not all of them are happy with Zeus’s rule); on Earth in the future, a small group of the last humans, living in luxury in a technological utopia after the departure, find someone who knows the secrets of the world they live in; and in the outer reaches of the solar system, machine intelligences are detecting strange quantum energy readings on the supposedly dead planets of Earth and Mars, and send an expedition to investigate, and if necessary eliminate the source of these strange readings.
Ilium is a joy. Simmons confidently weaves together his seemingly disparate storylines in unexpected ways, yet never losing focus or getting sidetracked. The story moves briskly, from the exciting action in the ancient city of Troy to comical byplay between Orphu and Mahnmut, two machine intelligences whose expedition to the inner planets is disrupted by a golden god in a flying chariot, as they discuss the relative merits of Shakespeare and Proust.
Simmons is a writer of exceptional talent , and Ilium is an exceptional work. Be warned that this is only the first half of the story; the story will be concluded in the forthcoming Olympos.