Ilium by Dan Simmons is an exciting fusion of Greek mythology and science fiction, written in the rich, smooth style of one of the greatest authors in the genre. The author of the Hyperion Cantos gives us yet another epic adventure which captivates the reader and keeps them on the edge of their reading chairs from start to finish. Making use of ancient history, the works of Shakespeare, and a diverse and entertaining band of human, non-human, and post-human characters, Simmons delivers a tale of Olympian proportions that explores the ethics of technology, the nature of intelligence, and the essence of what makes us human.
True to his own style, Simmons tells the story through three independent plots, which all come together for a magnificent finish. Daeman, Harman, and Ada live on a utopian earth, in a society that has been shaped and controlled by the post-humans who have mysteriously disappeared. Using the instantaneous transportation system, they seek out a peculiar person who takes them on a quest to find the truth about their world.
Mahnmut is a moravec — a sentient, biomechanical life form — dedicated to exploring the ocean of Europa, and in his spare time, analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets. He gets assigned to a mission to investigate Mars and the disturbing levels of quantum activity occurring there. What he and his good friend and Proust enthusiast, Orphu of Io, discover there is beyond their most imaginative expectations.
Early 21st century classics professor Thomas Hockenberry has been resurrected from scraps of DNA and a psychological profile in order to report to the Greek gods — on Mars — on the events of the Trojan war and the fidelity of those events with those of Homer’s Iliad. Hockenberry takes the ultimate risk and deliberately changes the course of the war, bringing it straight to the foot of Mount Olympus.
Several aspects of the technology and society in the world Simmons creates in Ilium, — as well as one possibly unintentional use of the word “farcaster” — made me question initially whether the events of this novel take place in the same universe as the events of Hyperion. Later, it becomes clear that this is not the case, and an intricate and unique universe emerges from the story as we follow Daeman, Mahnmut, and Hockenberry through their respective adventures. From the fax system to quantum teleportation to the firmary, Simmons uses real science to create a world rich with interesting and plausible technologies.
Possibly the best aspect of Simmons’ work, the character development and storytelling in Ilium keeps the reader hanging on as the novel shifts between the narratives, subtly stitching them together to build the history and mythology of his world. Of the entire dramatis personae, the character of Daeman experiences the most relatable and visceral transformation, evolving from a pampered, overweight dandy into a tried and true survivor. Delightfully lacking the brash, in-your-face attitude of much of modern science fiction, Simmons taps into the reader’s empathy, seasoning the meat of the human (or, rather, sentient) experience with a sprinkling of science and hard tech. Unlike some multi-narrative novels, Ilium is easily followed and gives the reader a holistic view of the lives of its characters.
Simmons finishes the novel with a seamless circling back to a loose end he left at the beginning of the story. After splicing that particular line, he closes the tale on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader with an expertly induced anticipation for the sequel, Olympos.
The Schultzmev Scale:
Character Depth: 10/10
World Building: 9/10
My copy of Ilium was purchased by me at The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles. This review is entirely my opinion and was not solicited by the author, publisher, or publicist.