Dan Simmons’ Ilium packs a lot of story into 570 pages– but you’ll have to wait for Olympos (to be released next Spring) to learns how it ends.
Ilium won the 2004 Locus Readers Poll Award for best novel, and is a finalist for this year’s Hugo, to be awarded in August.
Author: Dan Simmons
Original Publication Date: 2003
Cover Price (hardcover) $25.95 U.S. $39.95 Canadian. Available cheaper at Amazon.
1. On a distant future earth, the few remaining humans live idyllic, but fairly meaningless garden-party existences in what amounts to a zoo created by the post-humans, who haven’t written lately. An ancient woman named Savi, a budding scholar (well, he’s learned to read at 99), and a man who may be Odysseus shake things up when they realize the universe isn’t quite unfolding as it should.
2. Meanwhile, on Mars, the gods and goddesses of Classical mythology have been overseeing the Trojan War. Reconstructed scholars pulled from various eras report on the conflict’s similarity and divergences from Homer’s Iliad.
3. Moravecs, engineered to live on Jupiter’s moon, realize that activity on Mars threatens to rupture local timespace, and decide to act. The recruits include Mahnmut, who devotes its spare time to the study of Shakespeare.
In Simmons’ “Author’s Note,” he refers to childhood games when he explains his use of Latin names for the classical heroes, but Greek names for their gods. As a child, he and his brother had no trouble pitching World War II green soldiers into battle with Civil War figures. However, they had to develop a backstory once they chose to throw in the Viking and the Roman Centurion.
He uses this example to discuss aspects of nomenclature and orthography. However, the image describes Ilium overall. Simmons remains the little kid, wonder intact, playing with an assortment of toys, mixing mythology and SF conventions and various predictions about the technological singularity. He not only puts Little Green Men and moravecs with Hellenic soldiers and Star Trek-style transporters, he develops plausible reasons for the mix, and develops the implications of these elements. For most SF fans, this novel will be a joy to read.
I understand that Hockenberry comes from our century, and so he naturally makes familiar allusions. Mahnmut and Orphu read certain ancient literature, so they frequently reference those works. But at one point, Orphu suddenly reveals his hitherto undisclosed familiarity with 1950s sci-fi films in order to justify an unnecessary bad joke. Lame, lame, lame— and beneath the rest of the book.
Some of the explanations emerging for the presence of the Greek gods and certain other characters who appear in the second half of the book leave me feeling uneasy. However, many questions will remain unanswered until Olympos, and I may feel differently once Simmons has explained the situation more fully.
Originality: 4/6 Everything in this novel has appeared before, but rarely has it played quite as it does here.
Story: 5/6 Ilium begins very well. The final chapters had me turning pages, though I felt some disappointment in the resolutions. And, of course, we see no final resolution; we have to wait for Olympos. However, Simmons gets points for weaving these three storylines together.
Characterization: 5/6 Mahnmut is perhaps the novel’s most memorable character. The old-style humans on earth seem believable. I couldn’t quite accept some of the motivations and actions of the human characters involved with the seige of Troy– though I recognize they’re living under very different circumstances than I’ve experienced.
Imagery: 5/6 This ranges from spectacular to oddly lacking. Mahnmut ranks among the novel’s most important characters, yet we learn very little about his physical appearance.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall Score: 5/6. How does one give an overall score on 1/2 of a book?
In total, Ilium receives 33/42
Some familiarity with Shakespeare, Classical Mythology, and SF would be advised. Knowing Proust and various ideas about the (technological) Singularity helps.
Ilium and its sequel have been optioned for a movie adaptation. Wish them luck.