This is actually a reflection on both “Hyperion” and “The Fall of Hyperion,” which the author has mentioned were indeed intended to be published together, but page count resulted in them being published in separate volumes. As I approach the final quarter of the NPR Reader’s Choice Sci-Fi and Fantasy — now almost two years old! — I’m getting into the books I’ve put off reading for one reason or another. I’m finding that I don’t finish many of these, or if I do, I don’t continue on with the series. However, I ended up reading both of these, though finding a copy of “Fall” was a little tricky.
It’s the 28th century, and the human race has permeated the galaxy using FTL ships and farcasters, a network of instant travel portals, a technology which has allowed humans to colonize dozen of planets. In “Hyperion,” the backstories of the main characters is told by each; they have come together on a mission to the Time Tombs on Hyperion, which is reported to be guarded by a creature called the Shrike, which has a religious following. The travelers collectively (more or less) decide that sharing their stories will help them better understand the situation at hand. The characters are varied — a Catholic priest, a Mars-born soldier, a brain-damaged poet, a Jewish scholar and his Time Tomb afflicted daughter, a private investigator, and a governor formerly of one of the colonized planets. These stories take up the bulk of the first novel, and in “Fall,” having arrived at the Time Tombs, the plot begins to unfold, complicated by the presence of the Shrike, the opening of the Time Tombs, and an attack on the human Hegemony society by the rebellious Ouster society. The CEO of the Hegemony, a woman named Meina Gladstone, is forced to confront and evaluate not only the activities on Hyperion, but the impeding destruction threatened by the Oursters, being advised by a reactive and fearful senate.
I’m not really sure if “like” is the proper word for how I feel about this book — horrified, enthralled, repelled, angered, confused, and frustrated are all true as well. In particular, Father Dure’s torment, Rachel Weintrub’s affliction with backwards aging, and Meina Gladstone’s political turmoil all provoked strong emotional reactions. The fallout of decisions made towards the end of the novel and the impact that these had on the various Hegemony societies was really interesting, especially looking at modern parallels in our current reliance on technologically aided communication and commerce. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth a read.
A lot can happen in three hundred years, and in this science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, worlds are being formed within asteroids, on moons, and on other planets. Swan Er Hong is one who has been instrumental in the transformation and development of these worlds; each one is a delicate and artistic creation, and she is justifiably proud of them. After the sudden death of her grandmother, Alex, a prestigious scientist and researcher, Swan finds herself being approached by colleagues who hint at Alex’s involvement in some important and dangerous research, as well as by inspectors who are investigating the unexpected death. One of Alex’s colleagues, Fitz Wahram, persists in engaging Swan, who is wary, but invites him to tour one of her creations, the city of Terminator, on Mercury. However, a disastrous accident results in their being stranded in the underground tunnels of Mercury, where they are forced to trust one another for survival.
Having recently read “Rendezvoux with Rama,” I found Robinson’s description of world formation fascinating; it provided some context into just how Rama might have been created, and the intensive process that would have gone into such creation. Pages 36-40 in the hardcover edition of “2312″ are a prosaically straightforward instruction guide for transforming an asteroid into a customizable enclosed terrarium. Also fascinating are the “extracts” chapters in the book which include quotes from works that are never explained or put into context, but provide an insight into the culture, scientific research, history, and development of the present society. The qubes, or implanted artificial intelligence devices, play an important role in the story, but also serve to point out the downsides of being continually connected and monitored by a computer. I also really liked that Swan Er Hong is an unconventional scientist, a woman who has explored many different fields and engaged in rituals of many cultures — which shocks Warham and others around her, but she remains unswayed by public opinion.
Food is a very controversial topic these days, but despite all the information within our reach, the choices remain elusive. Organic or grass-fed? Free-range or cage-free? All natural? Genetically modified? Sustainably farmed or wild-caught? In this book, Schonwald travels across the country and around the world to investigate food trends, up-and-coming cuisines, and innovations in production.
The book opens with Schonwald’s imagined scenario of dining out in 2035 — a menu of cultivated meat, fresh rabbit, exotic greens, aquafarmed fish, flavors from Africa and India. In the chapters that follow, he investigates the West’s increasingly voracious hunger for fish, the search for species that strike the magical balance between sustainable cultivation in captivity and flavor that appeals to the American palate; the shift from iceberg to spring mix and the plastic bag which brought fresh and easy salads to the grocery aisles; the laboratories and scientists who seek to develop lab-raised meat; interviewing food futurists and visiting trade shows where cuisines from around the world are showcased by hundreds of vendors.
This book tries to address various food issues from a practical point of view; however, there are definitely things that will make proponents and opponents of GMOs, industrial farming, and food research stop and think, which makes this a valuable read. I found myself disagreeing with some of his conclusions, but respecting the argument and the path that he traveled to make those statements.
I meant to re-read “The Passage” before jumping into this one — after all, it has been a couple of years — but there was a waiting list, and once I picked up “The Twelve,” I didn’t put it down for the rest of the afternoon, reading with an engrossment only recently rivaled by my first reading of the Harry Potter series.
The prologue begins with a fascinating excerpt from the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period, which was also used as a frame for the previous book. This novel jumps between at least three different time periods, Year Zero, 79 AV, and 97 AV, some of which overlap the time periods that were covered in book one. Some of the cast of characters will be familiar, including the twelve virals, Amy, Peter, Alicia, Hollis, and Sara; though as I was reading, I had only a vague recollection of who was featured before. In Year Zero, a pregnant doctor has gone into shock and denial after witnessing the death of nine people by an infected patient; carrying on a facade of her daily life, she encounters Lawrence Grey, one of the janitors from Project Noah, and casts him as a Home Depot painter. Meanwhile, a sniper in Denver meets up with other survivors during the last big push before the failure of the quarantine line. In 79 AV, a group of agricultural workers and their families are dually attacked by humans aiding virals during an eclipse. And in present 97 AV, Amy emerges from the convent where she has been hiding, and begins to take actions that will converge at a commune in Iowa led by a former director of the department which oversaw Project Noah.
This book can be read without revisiting the first, though picking up “The Passage” will clarify much of what is happening. Some will probably be disappointed by the lack of action and focus on the remaining virals, especially since so much time was spent following Babcock and Carter in the first book. This book is noticeably shorter than “The Passage,” but a lot of ground is covered, and I’m curious to see what is left in the third book. Similar to Brunner’s dystopian novels, I really enjoy the wide cast of characters and the eventual intertwining of people and events, despite some initial confusion during first readings; the religious and political implications are also fascinating to see as they play out over time.