Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503
Simmons’ early fiction was largely horror, with some fantasy, but Hyperion, which won the 1990 Hugo Award, is science fiction. The Hyperion Cantos might be described as metaphysical science fiction in that it deals with concepts relating to the universe as a whole. The two books are theological in...
(The entire section contains 503 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Simmons’ early fiction was largely horror, with some fantasy, but Hyperion, which won the 1990 Hugo Award, is science fiction. The Hyperion Cantos might be described as metaphysical science fiction in that it deals with concepts relating to the universe as a whole. The two books are theological in that they offer a discourse on eschatology and predestination, as well as philosophical in their adaptation of the early Romantic concept of perfectibility as pure abstract process.
This work also falls within the category of recursive science fiction, which treats real people and the fictional worlds that they create as having equivalent reality. In placing a reconstructed John Keats persona at the center of the text, Simmons aligns this work with a number of other recursive texts, such as Tim Powers The Stress of Her Regard (1989), that make extensive use of the already self-reflexive lives and works of the major late Romantic figures, particularly George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), and John Keats. To these Romantic writers, the proper function of memory is to provide a path to the divine, using the mythopoeic powers of the imagination to transform base nature into transcendent reality. In postmodern fiction, especially in works dealing with cyberspace, the inspired order of memory has been reduced to the accumulation of data. This means that the inspired human memory is devalued as being less accurate than electronically recorded information that can be used to reconstruct reality. The more humans rely on artificially recorded data, the less able they are to perform the romantic apotheosis. This problem is explored in The Hyperion Cantos, in which the role of the dreaming poet as creator has been usurped by the artificial intelligences.
The overall structure is a space opera on a grand scale, containing complexly interwoven strands of action. Simmons’ technique is a self-consciously allusive postmodern collage of literary styles. His characters are drawn from a wide range of literary sources. Within the overtly Chaucerian framework of the first book, each of the pilgrims tales is narrated in a completely different style, ranging from the romance of the Consuls tale, through the Bildungsroman of Silenus the poets tale, to the tough, short-sentence detective form of Brawne Lamia’s detective’s tale.
This technique is not sustained in the second book, which is more uniform in authorial tone, concentrating on the complexities of plot resolution. There, Keats’s notion of spiritual growth through creative suffering is given literal form in the multiple deaths, quasi deaths, and resurrections inflicted on the characters in their search for reconciliation between human and machine, creator and created. The emphasis rests, finally, on a metaphoric structure of birth and rebirth.
The Hyperion Cantos has given Simmons a prominent place in the science-fiction field. His later works include The Hollow Man (1992; a much expanded version of “Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams,” 1982) and the horror novel Children of the Night (1992). Neither of these works has received the acclaim accorded to The Hyperion Cantos.