by Dan Simmons
Review by Jim Mann
Last month, when I read Charlie Stross's Acelerando, I thought it the clear leader in the Hugo race. After all, it was a really great novel, one of the best in a couple of years. But Dan Simmons's Olympos, the second half of a long novel that began with Illium, is another outstanding novel, and at this point I'm not sure which of the two will wind up first on my Hugo ballot.
Olympos, like Illium, is a novel of several intertwined threads. It's better than its predecessor, though, in that all of its threads are interesting from the start; in Illium, one of the threads (the Earth-based one) was less interesting than the other two for the first half of the book. Moreover, in Olympos, it's now clearer how the threads relate to one another, and that they are tied to one another throughout in often masterful fashion.
One thread follows Thomas Hockenberry, a classics scholar from roughly our time in history who has been resurrected to observe the events of the Trojan war (Homer's war, with all the characters right out of the Illiad). This thread weaves in and out of several of the other key threads. One of those follows various events in Illium (not the Illium on our Earth, but one on a parallel Earth) where, due to events from the end of Illium¸ the Greeks and Trojans, led by Achilles and Hector, lead a war against the gods. Hockenberry's story also intertwines with the story of the moravecs (intelligent robots), who have come to a future Mars (in our universe, but connected to the alternate, Illium-Earth, via a brane hole), where the Olympian gods are living. The moravecs have come to investigate the quantum disturbances that are threatening the solar system.
Meanwhile, on our Earth, in the far future, the last remaining humans are under attack by a combination of robots and Setebos, a brain-shaped monster that has arrived from another dimension. The humans, including an older Odysseus, are barely surviving. Throw Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel into the mix, add references to Proust, Romeo and Juliet, Joyce, Blake, Keats, and other poets (Stross may be a computer geek, but Simmons is a literature Geek), speculations on physics and on the creative power of true geniuses, battle scenes worthy of Homer, the literal fall of Troy (and before you say anything, I do know what the word "literal" means), incredible views of the underworld, a marvelous cast of characters, and you have a glimpse at the complexity that is Olympos. It's a great juggling act, keeping all these balls in the air, but Simmons manages it. Its disparate parts fit together into a wonderful whole.
And while Simmons loves literature, he clearly also likes SF. There is a great scene where several of the moravecs (one of whom is a Shakespeare expert, the other a Proust scholar, but both also Star Trek fans) trick several of the very serious moravecs into revealing they are also Trek fans. (They then beam to say things to one another like "Aha! Another fan!") There are a few problems with some of the science. (As I said, Simmons is a literature geek, not a math geek.) And he doesn't quite tie up everything (where did Setebos come from and go? Who or what are the Titans and others living in Tartarus. Who is the one God?) But given how many things he did right - and how many ends he did tie up - it remains a remarkable job.
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