Hugo Reviews: American Gods and Hyperion

Some more literary thoughts here!

American Gods – Neil Gaiman (Winner, 2002)

This kept me sane on some long flights to and from America itself over the summer, but didn’t help much as a guidebook if I’m honest! American Gods is an epic tale of the new gods of a modern age supplanting an older pantheon of immigrant deities brought to America in the minds and folklore of its historical settlers, and the war between them. Sounds clunky, but works well, with strong characterisation in the hidden maneuverings of the New Gods; Media, Technology, The Freeways, etc and the crafty countering of the Old; Odin, Anansi, Thoth, etc.

In to the middle of this invisible battleground comes Shadow, an ex-convict just released from prison to find that news of his wife’s death and infidelity has severed all ties to his old life and left him at a loose end. Taking up a job as bodyguard for the enigmatic Mr Wednesday leads into an increasingly surreal hidden world which is very much at war.

It’s all very Gaiman, echoing many of the core themes of Sandman, Neverwhere, Good Omens, etc; the personification of much greater concepts; gods and memes as actual people, walking the earth and the trials and tribulations they then cause, and face. Firmly in Magical Realism territory, Gaiman really runs with the All Myths Are True premise of the work and does it well; attempted by anyone else, it would seem very cluttered. There’s also a huge sweep of Americana running through the work too, a captivated fascination with cheesy mid-western roadside attractions I’d previously only seen treated this way in Sam’n’Max: Hit the Road and the whole book feels like a kind of textual version of ‘Nighthawks‘, only with more Vikings. I’ve no idea how this comes across to the American reader, but I quite enjoyed it.

The flow of story is quite a meandering thing, which takes its time to get anywhere specific, and which makes a huge number of lengthy detours, particularly the “Mr Wednesday Recruiting Allies” bits, but perhaps this accurately reflects the “road trip” nature of the story itself, a thing of whimsy as well as action. Anyway, enjoyed this one a lot, despite it not having any atomic jetpacks or laserbeams!

Give it a go if you like; Mythology Made Modern, The Largest Ball Of Twine In The World, Road Movies, Just About Anything Else Gaiman Has Ever Done.

 

Hyperion – Dan Simmons (Winner, 1990)

On the eve of war between the 28th century Hegemony of Man and the post-human Ouster barbarians, seven pilgrims begin the journey to the enigmatic Time Tombs on the outback world of Hyperion. Each seeks out an audience with the alien and awesomely powerful Shrike, a creature beyond conventional science and limits, with a bloodthirsty reputation. One will be granted a wish, at the cost of the lives of the others, while in the skies above, powerful empires and factions manoeuvre to gain the upper hand from the outcome.

Hyperion is one of those finds which is precisely why I’m working through this list in the first place. Why hadn’t I read this before? Simmons skilfully blends the epic space opera format with intense personal stories and characterisation in a way I’d only really seen done well by Iain M Banks, and there are many similarities of style, although Simmons’ Hegemony is a much more earnest place than Banks’ wilfully irreverent Culture, and while the Culture is interesting enough, the Hegemony is us; human beings, into a fantastical future, complete with future history; how we get there from today, which always fascinates me. The sci-fi is not especially hard, but certainly internally consistent enough, highly inventive and thought provokingly woven into the story, rather than just used as deus ex machinae or plot device; the tech is relevant and important to the plot.

The story is structurally interesting as well. The pilgrimage itself is a well crafted travelogue across a fascinating and exotic planet on the brink of interstellar war, and believably so; refugees fleeing, a sense of panic, urgency, and this would make an excellent short story by itself. But to pass the time the seven pilgrims, each expecting to die at the end of the journey, decide to pass the time by each telling the story of why they are on the pilgrimage in the first place, making the trip a framing story in which are contained ‘The Priest’s Tale’, ‘The Soldier’s Tale’, and so on in a very Canterbury Tales style of device which is brilliantly executed. Each of the contained stories is interesting and highly thought-provoking, examining various quirks of sci-fi physics, and the world and society in which they live. Remarkably, none of them feel like filler! It initially comes across as a bit of a short-story anthology, but soon reveals how connected each pilgrim already is to the Shrike, and Hyperion.

An absolutely cracking read, I immediately went out and bought the sequel, ‘The Fall of Hyperion‘ (spoilers abound in there) and am reading it right now. Highly recommended and just my cup of tea!

Give it a go if you like: Iain M Banks’ Non-Culture Novels, Quirky Public Transport, Sweeping Sagas Of Future Empire, Chrome Spikes

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2 thoughts on “Hugo Reviews: American Gods and Hyperion

  1. Akely says:

    I’ll definitely pick the Hyperion one up. I’ve read some Gaiman and I can’t make my mind up if I like his style or not.

    Thanks!

  2. I loved Hyperion, but will forever regret that I did not stop reading after that volume. Fall of Hyperion is at least a moderately entertaining read, but still a major disappointment after the excellent Hyperion, Endymion is just awful and Rise of Endymion only slightly better than that. The whole sequence is a prime example that literature often works better if not everything is explained and spelled out down to the last detail but some things are left to the reader’s imagination.

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