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A book by Dan Simmons

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Fascinating Despite Some Flaws

  • Mar 2, 2009
  • by
For the most part I enjoyed Illium but there are also a lot of drawbacks to it as well. Before launching into a critique a short synopsis of the plot will set the stage. Well, maybe not so short but as short as I can make it.

Illium follows three threads that more or less converge by the end of the book in a cliffhanger that sets up what should be a very exciting sequel. First we follow the exploits of Thomas Hockenberry - a 20th Century classics professor from Indiana whose DNA has been recombined by post-humans on Olympus Mons (Mars) who have morphed themselves into the Greek Gods. These capricious "gods" are replaying the Trojan War on earth as laid out in the Iliad by Homer. The "scholics" are used to follow the war and report back to the gods. Thomas, for reasons you'll discover, begins to intercede in ways that create unpredictable and unforeseen consequences, veering away from the events in the Iliad.

Over here we have "moravecs" who ply Jupiter's moons. Moravecs are, in essence, cyborgs - mostly machine but with some organic parts. They notice quantum fluxes on Mars and send a mission to investigate. And a device that they are supposed to activate once they get to Mars.

And finally we have "old style humans" who are not really old style humans because they have been genetically modified for longevity, but are not allowed to live longer than 100 years. They live idyllic lives, served by semi-organic machines. They have lost all literature and all ambition. Except for one man, Harman, whose actions also move events in new directions.

While overall enjoyable there are several things about this novel that are annoyances. First, we never find out what is the motivation of the "Gods" on Olympus Mons for their actions? Nor do we find out their origins. That lack of insight into these characters is a major drawback to the story. Nor do we find out who really controls the "old style" humans or why they even continue to exist.

Secondly, Simmons relies heavily on deux ex machina as a plot device. I guess that might be natural where you have quantum teleportation. I give Simmons credit for recognizing this - one of his characters makes a joke about it near the end of the novel.

Third, I suspect one who is more expert on the Iliad than I might have enjoyed the novel more. I read it when I was high school and have little desire to go back and read it again. But that is more this reader's shortcoming than the author's.

Overall, I can't say this is a Hugo Award deserving novel like some of Simmons' previous works. But in the end it was entertaining and I look forward to the sequel.

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From Publishers Weekly
Hugo and Stoker winner Simmons (Hyperion) makes a spectacular return to large-scale space opera in this elegant monster of a novel. Many centuries in the future, Earth's small, more or less human population lives an enjoyable, if drone-like existence. Elsewhere, on some alternate Earth, or perhaps it's the distant past, the battle for Troy is in its ninth year. Oddly, its combatants, Hector, Achilles and the rest, seem to be following a script, speaking their lines exactly as Homer reported them in The Iliad. The Gods, who live on Olympus Mons on the planet Mars, may be post-humans, or aliens, or, well, Gods; it isn't entirely clear. Thomas Hockenberry, a late-20th-century professor of the classics from De Pauw University in Indiana, has, along with other scholars from his era, apparently been resurrected by the Gods. His job is to take notes on the war and compare its progress to Homer's tale, noting even the smallest deviations. Meanwhile, the "moravecs," a civilization of diverse, partially organic AIs clustered on the moons of Jupiter, have been disturbed by the quantum activity they've registered from the inner solar system and have sent an expedition to Mars to investigate. It will come as no surprise to the author's fans that the expedition's members include specialists in Shakespeare and Proust. Beautifully written, chock full of literary references, grand scenery and fascinating characters, this book represents Simmons at his best.
Copyright 2003...
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ISBN-10: 0380978938
ISBN-13: 978-0380978939
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Eos; 1st edition (July 22, 2003)
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