by Dan Simmons
A Thing of Beauty
Brawne Lamia's Detective's Tale begins like any good detective story: a dark and stormy night. Well, it might be day, but it is dark and drizzly.
Anyway, in this story, the detective is female and the stereotypical femme fatale who walks into her office is a man named Johnny. Brawne eloquently observes, "Shit, this guy's beautiful" (5.185). But his being beautiful isn't just a convenient plot device. As John Keats said in his poem "Endymion": "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
Forever, eh? Just how long is forever? Well, we're about to find out.
Johnny's a cybrid. We'll let Brawne explain: "Tailored from human genetic stock, they are far more human in appearance and outward behavior than androids are allowed to be" (5.226).
Ok, so he's some sort of robot-type person made from human genetic material. Got it. What about his brain? Back to you, Brawne: "His consciousness or ego or whatever you want to call it floated somewhere in the megadatasphere dataumplane of the TechnoCore" (5.223).
Got that? No? Well, he's an artificial intelligence (AI), kind of like a computer program, but he exists in a human body. It's like your Sim has come to life, but there's a backup in the cloud, just in case he's murdered or something. (Or, you know, like a cylon.) And Johnny is murdered (at least for a couple minutes), and now he wants Brawne to find his killer.
It's also important to note that he's not just any Sim. His consciousness is actually from of the Romantic poet… John Keats. Yes, that John Keats. It's all part of the personality retrieval project, which we'll get to later. Johnny has Keats's memories, or at least he remembers "what the designers thought that [Keats] felt" (5.764).
If it walks like Keats, and talks like Keats, and thinks like Keats, then it's Keats. Right?
Johnny, Can You Hear Us?
Ok, back to the murder. Who killed Johnny? And if he came right back to life, what's the big deal? He tells us that we're being insensitive: "You have no idea what a minute of... disconnection... means to an element of the TechnoCore. It is eons of time and information. Millennia of noncommunication" (5.293).
Yikes. Imagine being without Facebook for five minutes. Now, imagine being able to perceive everything being created on the Internet as it happens… and then losing connection. It would be devastating. Now we get it.
Long story short (if you want the long story, read The Detective's Tale, it's a thrilling futuristic noir yarn), the TechnoCore itself assassinated Johnny to keep him from reaching Hyperion. It's the title of the book, so we know it's a big deal. Johnny says, "Hyperion is the key mystery of our age—physical and poetic—and it is quite probable that he... that I was born, died, and was born again to explore it" (5.954). By taking on Johnny's case, Brawne might just be solving a galactic mystery, the mystery to end all mysteries.
Unfortunately for Johnny, he dies yet again before seeing Hyperion. Before he succumbs, he uploads himself into a device implanted into Brawne, so that he too may be reborn. As he dies, he says one last thing to Brawne, "Fanny..." (5.1207). Perhaps they were destined to be together, the reincarnation of Keats and this woman named after his love, Fanny Brawne.