by Dan Simmons
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Starships Were Meant to Fly
Hyperion takes place in the 28th century. You'd think they could just teleport to their destination and be done with it. But then we wouldn't have a book, would we? That's not the only reason, though. Pilgrimages are supposed to be hard. You can't just ride the bullet train to salvation; you have to hoof it... so to speak. There aren't any horses in Hyperion. Maybe we've driven them to extinction in the past 700 years.
Hyperion begins on the Consul's ebony spacecraft, the first of a long series of transports that will guide the pilgrims first to Hyperion then across it. What would a pilgrimage be without long-distance travel? And not pleasant travel, either. In The Canterbury Tales, those pilgrims rode horseback, which is not exactly as comfortable as speeding down the 405 in your Lexus.
Ragnarok 'n' Roll
Everyone first meets on the treeship Yggdrasil, "one of only five of its kind" (1.17). Somehow these Tree Templars have taken a tree and made it fly. Do you really need to know more?
Okay, fine: in Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the World Tree. On the day of Ragnarok (the end of the world) the tree will be set on fire by the fire giant Surt. It doesn't quite happen that way in Hyperion, but Yggdrasil does burn, shot down by the Ousters. The end of the world is nigh. (Want to know more about these wacky Norse gods? Check out our mythology section.)
What, No Taxi?
After landing on Hyperion, the pilgrims take a variety of archaic transports on their journey: a wind wagon (pretty much a sailboat on land), a tramcar (like they're going on a ski trip or something), and the barge Benares, which is so old it actually did come from old Earth. Again, these are not state-of-the-art transports. These are very back-to-basics vehicles. In case you haven't noticed, we have sailboats and barges here on Earth.
So what? Well, we think this might be a way of saying that, even though we've got treeships and Shrikes and poet-cities, the future isn't going to be all that different from the past. People are still going to be living and dying for their faith.
Where's Our Hovercar?
One thing Hyperion doesn't have is farcaster portals, which are "essentially is just [crude holes] ripped in space/time by a phased singularity" (5.311). Step in one and pop out of another, maybe light years away. Like disapparating, but science-y. Martin Silenus's house is practically made of them, with its three dozen rooms on just as many worlds.
If you just can't wrap your mind around it, go play Portal. (Good luck wrapping your mind around that.) We'll wait here.
Okay, now you know what they do—but we still don't quite know how. They Consul tells us that "no human scientists or team of human scientists had come close to understanding [the farcaster]. The Ousters tried. They failed" (6.513). But we do know that it's important that the pilgrims are traveling, not just teleporting. Sol Weintraub observes, "We are part of that one tenth of one tenth of one percent of the Hegemony's citizens who travel between the stars rather than along the Web" (1.98).
So if farcasters are so important, why doesn't Hyperion have them? Two reasons (we think). First, if there were farcasters on Hyperion, the Shrike could get to us, no matter where we are. Frankly, we're pretty happy that it can't.
Second, if the pilgrims could take a farcaster to the Shrike, well, this would be a short book, wouldn't it? A pilgrimage is just as much about the journey as it is the destination.