book 7: Ilium, by Dan Simmons

25Mar10

Tuesday evening I finished Ilium, by Dan Simmons. This book has been languishing in one of my piles of “to be read” books for quite some time, but after I finished the Tim Powers, I wanted to transition to something totally different, but equally dense and full of plot and character.

Ilium did not disappoint.

According to the back of the book blurb, this is ostensibly a sort of retelling of the Trojan War; the events that Homer sang of in the Iliad and that we all had to read in high school. (At least I did. Not that I actually did.) I’m an admitted Greek history nerd (Hi, I was a Classics major), so this intrigued the hell out of me, especially since the description mentioned a 20th Century professor that has been resurrected by the gods to watch over the proceedings and report them back. And also, the war rages not on Earth in the past, but on Mars in the future, at the foot of Olympos Mons, where the Greek gods have made their new home.

There is so much more to the story than just this one thread, however. The narrative flows between three separate groups: the first is the main character Thomas Hockenberry, the aforementioned Classics prof from now-ish. The second is a group of moravecs travelling from Jovian space to investigate some seriously scary emissions come from Mars. And the third is a small group of what are referred to as “old-style” humans on Earth and their slow rediscovery of things that we take for granted.

I don’t usually read much actual science fiction, and I’m not sure that this novel quite classifies as such, but it’s definitely close. Most of the sciencey stuff I managed to pick up at the concept of. It took me a while to figure out what moravecs are, and I finally gave in and consulted the list of characters in the back to discover that what I’d gleaned from context was mostly right. Without going into agonizing and unnecessary detail about the future, Simmons manages to convey most of what has transpired on Earth and to the human race between Hockenberry’s and our own time, and this distant, unspecified future. There is rather a bit of quantum theory and some stuff on ripping apart space and time that mostly went over my head, I will admit.

But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this novel. The characters are all intriguing and well defined. Even the really unlikeable guy has an arc. I always love it when characters have an arc. Nowhere did anyone do anything that pulled me out of the story. At first, I found myself mostly interested in Hockenberry’s part of the story. I have to admit I wasn’t sure how the moravecs and their little mission tied in to events on Olympos, or what role the small band of humans would play. I love that I didn’t see a lot of what happened coming; it kept me turning the pages.

Each chapter switches narrative focus, which I don’t think always works. Here it did, especially towards the end when the chapters started to shorten in length. I didn’t really notice this until I was nearly finished the novel, but I think it’s a genius move. The action picked up as the chapters shortened; boom boom boom, things happen one right after the other, to all three groups.

I have the companion novel to this book waiting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to get to it. I’m making myself take at least a one book break between them, but I don’t think it’ll last long. Even though I’ve already started reading my next book, I keep thinking about Hockenberry and Daemon and Ada and Harman and Mahnmut and Orphu of Io. That right there is the sign of a really good book, folks: the characters have all become real people to me. Even the ones who aren’t technically people at all.

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2 Responses to “book 7: Ilium, by Dan Simmons”

  1. 1 Wahoo

    You will certainly enjoy Olympos and I would suggest you read his prior Hyperion/Endymion series it goes far, far beyond pedestrian sci fi.

    • I’ve heard that they’re good as well. I’ll add them to the ever-expanding list. Thanks!


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