Study Guide

Hyperion Chapter 3

By Dan Simmons

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Chapter 3

  • The pilgrims arrive in the river port town of Naiad, only to find it destroyed.
  • They continue their journey upriver, seeing no evidence of civilization along the way.
  • At dinner, it's time for another tale: The Poet's Tale: Hyperion Cantos.
  • The narrative shifts into first-person P.O.V.: "In the beginning was the Word" (3.23) begins the Poet's Tale.
  • Martin Silenus, the poet, tells us that a bunch of artists, writers, sculptors, poets, etc. landed on Hyperion two hundred years ago to make it their home.
  • So Hyperion is basically the Portland, Oregon of the universe.
  • Oh, well, except for the fact that they took the people living on Hyperion at the time and all but enslaved them, putting them to work along with the androids they brought from their home world.
  • After telling us all this, Silenus decides that we need a more chronological story, so he backtracks to when he was born, on Earth. Yes, that Earth. The one you're probably reading this from right now.
  • He was born after what they call the Big Mistake, when a human-generated black hole started devouring the Earth's core. Um, we are so glad the Hadron Collider didn't do the same thing.
  • Silenus spends most of his days hanging out with his tutor, Balthazar, and writing bad poetry.
  • Before she dies, Silenus's mother put him on a slower-than-light spacecraft for a colony on Heaven's Gate? Why? She didn't want the family to die in debt.
  • She figured that during the 129-year-long journey, their money would accrue enough interest to pay off any debt.
  • It's a good thing that Jane Austen didn't live around this time, or Mrs. Bennett might have done the same thing to Lizzie.
  • By the time Silenus comes out of his cryonic fugue, he's brain-damaged and penniless, since all Old Earth bank accounts were frozen when it finally succumbed to death by black hole.
  • Guess that didn't work out too well.
  • He's put to work digging canals on Heaven's Gate. During this labor-intensive time, his mind yearns to write, but he can only speak nine words, the least profane of which is "peepee" (3.65) Or maybe "poopoo" (3.65). The others, well, we don't have enough asterisks for those.
  • After some lengthy philosophical pondering, Silenus comes to the conclusion that "to be a true poet is to become God" (3.85).
  • His words return as his brain heals, and he begins writing his Cantos.
  • One day, a punk named Unk (what a good name for a punk) beats Silenus almost to death.
  • As Silenus is recovering, a woman named Helenda reads his manuscript.
  • Helenda knows someone who knows someone, yadda yadda yadda, Silenus is published. Helenda divorces her husband to marry Silenus, and the Cantos, heavily edited and published as The Dying Earth, sells over a billion copies. That's billion with a "b."
  • Two years and one divorce later, Silenus wants his Cantos to be published as he originally intended.
  • Tyrena Wingreen-Feif, his editor, agrees: "It's perfect... a masterpiece" (3.164) she tells him. But when asked if she thinks it will sell, she responds, "No f***ing way" (3.166).
  • She's right. It barely sells over 25,000 copies.
  • Over the next six years, Silenus cranks out eight horrible sequels to The Dying Earth. They make Harlequin's NASCAR series look like Moby-Dick.
  • Not wanting to write Dying Earth X, Silenus flees to the kingdom of Sad King Billy, who soon assembles all his artists for the trip to Hyperion.
  • Why a deserted outworld so far from civilization? Because "Mystery. The strangeness of place so necessary to some creative spirits" (3.282). I.e., it would awaken everyone's muse.
  • But it doesn't quite work that easily for Silenus, whose "verse continued to be technically proficient and dead as Huck Finn's cat" (3.296). Translation: it stunk. Instead of writing, Silenus has his own body cosmetically altered to look like a satyr. As in the Silenus from Greek legend.
  • After much debauchery, Silenus decides to kill himself. That night, the Shrike appears.
  • The Shrike starts randomly murdering the citizens of the Poets' City. The blood flows, and so do Silenus's words.
  • He believes that the Shrike is his muse, and that he summoned in the first place. Sad King Billy orders an evacuation, but not everyone leaves. Silenus is among the 200 that stay.
  • A dozen years pass. People are either killed or flee town. Silenus has his satyr parts removed, so he looks human once again.
  • One night Sad King Billy returns. He knocks out Silenus and starts to burn the Cantos.
  • The Shrike kills Sad King Billy in a painful, spiky embrace (you do not want to hug it out with the Shrike).
  • Silenus burns the Cantos, and the Shrike disappears.
  • Since that night, Silenus has lived 250 years thanks to anti-aging Poulsen treatments and two century-long cryogenic sleeps.
  • He swears he will finish the poem: "In the end will be the Word" (3.476).

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