Olympos (Ilium, Book 2)
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And Daeman You could almost forget Daeman was still with them, so little he contributes to the group's adventures and conversations. After plenty of conversations and the occasional action set-piece, the group splits.
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Ada, Hannah, and Odysseus return to Ada's home - Odysseus begins preaching and teaching, becoming a sort of cult figure. Harman, Savi, and Daeman fly to the 'Mediterranean Basin' the inland sea has been drained , to find a way to get to the orbital space stations. Daeman's reasons for joining Harman and Savi are very weak: he is afraid of the Allosaurs living in the forests by Ada's home, and doesn't want to teleport from Ada's home to his own because now he understands the technology a little more: Savi had explained it involves destroying his old self and creating a copy elsewhere - Daeman finds this disconcerting.
He decides to join the crazy quest rather than ask to be dropped off at his own home on the way to the Mediterranean Ada lives in North America, Daeman in Paris. Now we must leave the Earthlings and turn to our third storyline. Mahnmut and Orphu are moravecs, autonomous biomechanical beings living on the moons of Jupiter there are also moravecs living on asteroids.
They are recruited by the Five Moons Consortium, along with a bunch of other moravecs, to go on a mission to terraformed Mars. Their objective: place and activate a mysterious Device on Olympus Mons. Mahnmut is roughly humanoid in shape and is an amateur Shakespeare scholar.
Orphu is like a giant crab, and is very enthusiastic about the works of Marcel Proust. The two of them converse about their literary heroes, discussing 20th century critics, quoting huge passages, and generally having a great time nerding out together. I wasn't joking earlier when I said whole pages of Proust are quoted. The other moravecs are given no personality - which is lucky for the reader because they may otherwise have cared when they all died when the ship gets shot down as it approaches Mars.
Since Simmons clearly enjoys writing their smartypants Shakespeare-Proust conversations, and has invested in the characters by giving them personality - they are perhaps the best characters in the novel - there is no real sense of danger in their story.
I didn't believe Simmons would be willing to kill either of them off, especially not so early in the story, so this section just drags on and on. Of course they will, and they do. Once ashore, they encounter a photosynthetic species, the Little Green Men, who conveniently have a fleet of ships and can spare one for the moravecs' journey to Olympos. A storm hits while they sail, and the two moravecs quote The Tempest at each other, and Simmons explains some of the unfamiliar terms for the reader's benefit. During this story we are treated to the Most Thoroughly Bullshit quantum science conversation in the whole book, and possibly in all literature.
Ey m8, says Orphu I'm paraphrasing heavily , you know cos consciousness is a quantum wavelength, what if the literary greats of the past, with the force of their quantum consciousness imagination, created new quantum universes? What if quantum technology is the reason the Greek Gods, and Shakespeare's characters, are coming in to the world? The barriers between this world and quantum universes are weakening and allowing the fictional to become the real. I reckon that is totes what's hapnin.
Not only is this thoroughly bullshit, it makes the book feel so much cheaper, like cheesy crossover fanfic or The Pagemaster for adults. They are captured by the gods and taken to Zeus for questioning. This all covers the first pages; now the 3 stories start to converge and get more exciting. Or rather, it now feels like the stories are actually beginning. The chapters covering Hock's efforts to unite the Trojans and Greeks are done relatively well.
Mahnmut borrows the Invisibility Helmet in order to plant the Device secretly, then joins Hock in Troy. Once the extremely slow build-up is over, Ilium feels like a trashy yet very entertaining action movie. During the chaos, with explosions and screaming civilians around them, Helen finds Hock and kisses him goodbye and good luck before he teleports away, in a scene that would definitely be accompanied by suddenly emotional music in a movie adaptation, and would perhaps be in slow motion.
I forgot to mention earlier, there is a scene where Hock gets captured and interrogated by a group of women.
One of them holds a knife to his testicles to get him to talk. Hock describes this knife as a 'feminist blade'. The Device activates. The converse occurs around Olympos. We learn that Troy was not on Mars after all - it is a version of Earth, connected to Mars with quantum tunneling or something.
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No doubt the sequel will confirm Troy's Earth is in the quantum reality created by Homer. Strange tripods emerge from some of the portals. At this point I'm ready to throw the book across the room if the tripods are Martians from a quantum reality created by H. Thankfully they are not: it is an army of moravecs, here to lay siege to Olympos. They join with the Greek-Trojan alliance, and march through the portals towards the home of the gods.
The Little Green Men also show up and join the alliance. Zeus erects a huge force field to protect Olympos. The stage is set for the sequel, the siege of Olympos. The group escape in a vehicle called a crawler. In the Mediterranean, they find strange chairs which enable them to travel up to a space station, and then break. The reader is treated to an extended horror sequence, which is done rather well but is overlong. The group explore the space station, floating zero G past bodies and severed limbs and ruined technology.
They encounter Caliban, a strange lizard monster who speaks in a vaguely Shakespearean way. Savi is killed but we don't care because she was little more than a mouthpiece for Simmons to explain things to the reader. Daeman and Harman wander round the space station, eating little, growing their facial hair, and wondering if they'll be killed by Caliban or find some way to escape.
Dan Simmons: Ilium and Olympos
Prospero, an AI hologram, explains that Ariel, a mysterious entity on Earth, saved Savi's Sonie from the Voynix and programmed it to rescue them from the space station. It is parked outside. Turns out the sonie was a spaceship after all and if Savi had been aware of this they could have skipped a lot of the wandering around. The characters accept this revelation calmly, not freaking out at all at the pointlessness of their earlier travels.
It feels a very lazy way to get them to escape. Prospero even jokes that it is "another deux ex machina. For when a human on Earth gets ill or injured, they are sent up here for recovery! So rather than a fast escape sequence we get a long admin sequence in which Daeman and Harman travel to the infirmary, fiddle around with the functioning technology to send the recovering people back to Earth. The power cuts out - Caliban is out to get them - and there's one person still in the healing tanks: Hannah.
The bland character from earlier returns as the bland damsel in distress. This sequence becomes even longer. So yeah, eventually they all escape and return to Earth. Odysseus vaguely and ominously speaks about the need for everyone to prepare for the Ultimate War spreading to this Earth. Obviously none of the characters have a clue what he's on about, but the reader does. In the final chapter, Hock visits a character in hiding who he knew earlier in the story and updates him on the Troy-Olympos situation, about the Greek-Trojan alliance, about the Moravecs and the Little Green Men, about the War Against The Gods.
However, there are plenty of negative reviews of Olympos from people who thought Ilium was a masterpiece, so I won't be bothering. There is a decent, entertaining novel hidden within Ilium , which could be revealed by a determined editor. In an interview I heard Dan Simmons say that when you're starting off as an author you can't publish big tomes; they can only come once you're established. Ilium has led me to believe that many editors must give up once an author is established enough to sell by name alone; the quality of the product doesn't matter so much once author's brand is well known.
Much of the first pages could be removed. Hock doesn't need to spend so much time watching the Iliad events before gaining agency. The incest aspect could be entirely removed; Daeman could be removed, leaving Harman as a more interesting protagonist. Unnecessary Nabokov references are unnecessary. I like literary allusions and references, but I don't like them smashed into my face while I read.
Simmons seems to throw in as many quotes and references as he can to pad it out. I wonder whether he does this when he isn't confident in his own story, or when he's overconfident and is feeling super clever. The Shakespeare-Proust conversations could be cut heavily, as could Hock's Iliad scholarship talk.
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Ilium is blatantly soft science fiction, science fantasy. The technology is magic. I like soft science fiction; I am quite happy for a story to use 'By science! Ilium does not do this; with the bullshit quantum explanations, Simmons is trying to convince you it is serious, hard science fiction. With the aggressive literary references and allusions, Simmons is trying to convince you Ilium is serious, Great Literature. It all has an air of desperation about it. Ilium obviously invites comparison to Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light , mentioned earlier.
Zelazny does not try to explain how his gods' technology works; he confidently states what the technology does, trusts the reader to accept it, and gets on with the story. Zelazny is also not aggressive with his allusions; the focus is on his own story and characters.
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Read Lord of Light ; give Ilium a miss. There are better ways to spend your time and money. I loved Hyperion , and persevered through its disappointing sequel. After reading Ilium , I probably won't touch another Dan Simmons novel. Maybe, just maybe , I'll read Song of Kali , his shortish debut novel sometime, from back when his editor probably cared more about the quality. Suspension of disbelief is required on a larger scale for me than the Hyperion saga. Joined Mar 21, Messages 9, Location Australia. The Procrastinator 1 Candlepower Brain.