A First Look at Brian McClellan’s Latest Epic Fantasy Novel

Brian McClellan’s new epic fantasy novel from Tor, In The Shadow Of Lightning, is finally out.

I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I am so excited about this book that I decided to start with a review of the prologue. Some might consider prologues to be annoying, but I think this is an example of a prologue done right. Just to be clear, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

McClellan is one of the more prominent authors in the flintlock fantasy subgenre and helped it make it popular with his debut novel Promise of Blood. I’ve been a big fan for ten years now and for the past year, I’ve been included in McClellan’s “Street Team” group chat. I wasn’t able to beta-read the book, but it’s been fun to get a look behind the curtain at a book as it is being written. I can’t wait to read it and take about it with you all and I already think this book is worth your time.

It’s set in a world of industrial magic, where huge factories churn out magical glass called cindersand. Society runs on this vital resource, and it’s running out. But the wealthy guild families of Ossa aren’t about to let something as minor as the death of magic to stop them from scheming.

The book begins with our MC Demir accepting the surrender of a defeated city. Instead of killing its leader and decimating its population (killing 1 in 10) as is tradition, Demir declares his intention to spare the city. After all, they would not have rebelled if they didn’t have legitimate grievances. Right from the beginning we see Demir as someone with a conscience and a strong sense of right and wrong. And then the schemes of others breaks him.

While he had been busy accepting the city’s surrender someone else had been busy distributing counterfeit orders to his officers. The falsified orders in question instructed the army to raze the city. Demir was too late. His own soldiers fail to recognize him and push him aside. When they find him the next morning he is cradling the body of a young girl who was trampled by his cavalry.


If this first look at In The Shadow Of Lightning has you interested then you should definitely pick the book up or listen to it on Audible. Audiobooks are a great way to keep up with current fiction on your drive to work. You can also follow me on Twitter if you want to chat about it or be the first to know when my full review is posted.

Book Review: After the Revolution by Robert Evans

I finished reading a book. Which for me is saying quite a lot. This time I finished reading After the Revolution by Robert Evans.

After the Revolution by Robert Evans
I borrowed this image from AK Press, an anarchist publishing house.

These days have a dozen or so books that I am “reading” at any one time, so actually finishing one is quite remarkable. This book is remarkable too, for a few reasons.

About Robert Evans

First off, it’s a book published by an anarchist publishing house called AK Press. They’re completely democratic and worker-owned. They also publish about twenty books every year. They’re really cool and you should check them out.

The second is that it’s a book by Robert Evans, who you may know for his work as a journalist, his multiple podcasts, or his time at Cracked.com. Or maybe even from his other book, A Brief History of Vice.

This is Evans’ first foray into fiction and it doesn’t disappoint. If you have listened to his podcast “Behind the Bastards” you can tell that he has read a lot of fiction and non-fiction for both fun and profit. It’s always exciting when someone who can reference classic science fiction so readily and critique Ben Shapiro’s terrible science fiction so fiercely decided to publish their own book.

Setting and Characters

A map of Austin TX and its surroundings
After the Revolution references Texas geography a lot. If you’re like me and not a native a map will probably help. Link.

After the Revolution takes place in a post-USA North America, where the former states have balkanized into a handful of smaller states, each of them experimenting with different ways of living. Kind of. The most direct successor of the USA, the AmFed, seems like a pretty safe place to live but also pretty dull. The moving city of posthuman nomads lovingly named “Rolling Fuck” where alcohol and narcotics flow freely at all times of the day seems a lot more fun.

This book is set primarily in the failed libertarian experiment that is the Republic of Texas. It’s not a very stable polity. The Free City of Austin and the Secular Defense Force (SDF) are the main players were care about in terms of sane governments. The other is the Heavenly Kingdom, a group of christofascist militias with an excellent command of social media and propaganda, and also a willingness to shell civilian neighborhoods into submission at the first sign of resistance. At the start of the book this conflict has been simmering for years, but that is about to change. That brings us to the three POV characters we get to follow.

Manny – a fixer who was born and raised in Austin. Manny makes a living by making introductions for foreign journalists. He has dreams of saving up to move to a less violent part of the world, like Europe.

Roland – a posthuman combat vet with almost no memory of his past. Roland prefers to spend his days ingesting as many drugs as he can get his hands on. He does this to dull his enhanced senses while he works very hard to avoid killing people. He is very good at killing people and is nearly unkillable himself.

Sasha – a nice studious girl attending high school in the AmFed. She became radicalized online and even fell in love with a soldier fighting for the Heavenly Kingdom. She’s been hiding her allegiance from her parents for two years while she prepares to emigrate to the Heavenly Kingdom and work to see God’s will done on Earth.

The Verdict

Now, I’m just going to say it, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t normally take an interest in stories that fall into the twenty-minutes-into-the-future category but honestly, that’s a mistake on my part. With the exception of some especially magical nanobot healing, Evans created a setting that feels real and not too far away from the present.

In the acknowledgments, Evans says that this is a book mainly about trauma, and we are presented with a lot of characters who are all dealing with trauma in different ways. What I think he did so masterfully, was craft a future America that could feel real and relatable, no doubt thanks to his experience as a war correspondent in the Middle East. We tend to otherize the people who are victimized by western bombing campaigns in the Middle East. Evans does a phenomenal job portraying scenes we expect to see on the news overseas as taking place on a continent more familiar to us. The book challenges us to otherize the characters but we can’t help but empathize with them.

I think this is a really great book. Robert Evans did a fantastic job of envisioning a future where all the bad things that we don’t like to imagine happening here actually could. Easily 5/5, especially when the novel stands on its own. The ending leaves room for possible sequels but doesn’t require them. If you’re hesitant about buying a copy for yourself you can listen to the book online. But I really recommend buying a copy if you can afford it to support a smaller press.

Stay tuned for a series of reviews of Brian McClellan’s new book; In The Shadow Of Lightning.

Three Things Disney’s Kenobi Series Did Right

Who doesn’t want more of Obi-Wan? Ewan McGregor plays the character perfectly. Phot from @StarWars on Twitter

Now that it’s over, we can look back and analyze what the Kenobi series did right. I already shared my feelings about the series, and I may decide to talk about three things that Kenobi did wrong too. For now, though, it’s all appreciation for this vital addition to the Star Wars canon.

1. Giving Obi-Wan A Reason To Leave Tatooine.

I know Tatooine was pretty much a copy of Arrakis, but I still love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

We have been spending a lot of time on Tattooine lately. Somehow every character ends up there eventually. The Book of Boba Fett finally gave a face to the inhabitants and background characters of the desert planet. It’s a perfectly fine setting, who doesn’t love haggling with jawas? But the problem with reusing a setting over and over is that it gets old.

Like most people I expected most of the series to take place on Tatooine. Aside from a now non-canon book series we were never given a reason to believe that Obi-Wan had ever left Tatooine during his exile. Despite this, Leia somehow recognizes “Ben Kenobi” as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” she was looking for. Some might even say that this entire series was made to fill in that plot hole.

2. Keeping Luke (Mostly) Out Of It

Imperial Sandtroopers questioning Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV. Photo from Wookiepedia.

When we first saw the trailer all we were allowed to see was Obi-Wan, the deserts of Tatooine, and a young Luke playing at being a pilot. Since Luke and Obi-Wan spend a lot of time together on screen in Episode IV, if Luke was a prominent part of the Kenobi series we would have been left with two plot holes for everyone the series writers tried to fill.

Instead, we got only a brief glimpse of Young Luke on Tatooine. I think this was for the best. Luke is already the main character in three separate movies, we’ve had enough of them. If the Star Wars franchise is going to continue to grow it needs to let us explore other characters instead of giving us a mere handful of bloated characters.

3. Having Obi-Wan Face Of With Darth Vader

New Star Wars has made Darth Vader terrifying, competent, brutal, and somehow relatable at times. I love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

The final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader added so much meaning to their confrontation in Episode IV. At the end of Episode III Obi-Wan had every reason to believe that Anakin had died on Mustafar where he left him. He had no reason to think that one of the tormentors of the galaxy was his fallen apprentice.

The events of Kenobi and the finale showdown ad extra emotional weight to the events of Episode IV and the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Conclusion

Kenobi wasn’t perfect, no series is. However, I think this was a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon. I’ll always miss the old Expanded Universe, but I am glad that the people Disney has in charge of Star Wars seem committed to keeping the spirit of the franchise alive. Especially after the lackluster sequel trilogy, we were made to watch

Connect with me on Twitter if you liked this content and want to chat more about Star Wars or any other aspect of speculative fiction.

Fog of Love

My collection of board games is light on two-player games. I don’t mean games that allow just two players to play, I mean games built specifically for two players. Lately, I’ve been looking to change that, with special emphasis on games that look like I might be able to convince my fiance to play.

Fog of Love turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

The box is easy to organize and has plenty of room for the expansions

Fog of Love is a two-player, RPG card game in which each player assumes the role of a person in a romantic relationship. The base game comes with several different scenarios of varying difficulty and complexity. During these scenarios, the two players take turns playing scene cards from their hands and react to those scenes by making choices. Different choices have different outcomes, and sometimes the outcome depends on whether you both agree or disagree.

We played the tutorial scenario, which begins with a Sunday morning first date. All of the cards in the box come presorted so that this is the first scenario you play with helpful tutorial cards inserted into the decks so you can play without ever having read the rules.

The traits you pick at the beginning are hidden and incentivize you to make certain choices throughout the game.

A challenge with any RPG is that if the players aren’t invested in the roleplay the game can get a little awkward. The scenes are basically story prompts and the players are free to invent the specifics. Not everyone is comfortable with that, especially if they are new to board games, what’s so beautiful about the game’s design is that it actively helps you roleplay.

A player’s trait cards, destinies, and secrets are all hidden from the other player at the start. All of these cards work together to tell the player what kind of relationship the character wants and what is basically the character’s ideal personality. The choices players make can force them to exchange cards, reveal cards, change their satisfaction score, or their personality attributes.

The personality attributes and satisfaction scores are out in the open, providing a record of choices and allowing the two players to get to know each other’s characters naturally. Right off the bat, the game provides an easy and intuitive way to decide how your character would behave AND it provides a way for your character to change and for you to change how you play them. Your choices could have made you bitter and quick to anger, or more sensitive and caring.

What does all this add up to? An elegant roleplaying game for friends and couples. One where you can work together to become equal partners in a fictitious relationship or selfishly work to only make yourself happy.

I really can’t say enough about how elegant the design of this game is. There’s tons of room for complexity while at the same time it remains very accessible for newcomers to the hobby. If you’ve been thinking about this game or looking for something new to do on date night then just buy it. You’ll be glad you did.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Like many, my first introduction to Altered Carbon was through the Netflix adaptation.

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.

The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.

The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.

The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?

I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.

A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories Book 1) by [H. G. Parry]

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.

“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.

From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.

How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.

But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.

Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle here.

Holiday Gifts For Writers

What do you get for the person who has to a to-be-read pile a mile high? For the person who clicks and clacks away on their keyboard all day? Clearly not more books. What are they going to do with those? Stack them higher? The answer is actually to get them a collector’s edition of their favorite book. But what if you don’t want to get them that? I’ve got the answers for you.

A Great Notebook

woman holding book with blank pages
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Every creative knows the torment of having more ideas than they know what to do with. This can actually be a real problem because with every new idea that jumps into a person’s head it becomes that much harder to focus on their current project.

I’ve dealt with this problem by keeping a commonplace book, or a journal if you prefer to call it that. This book is for any idea that occurs to me or for anything I want to remember. Everything from meeting notes to random thoughts to outlines of entire novels. If I have an idea I want to remember I write it down in this book.

It’s done wonders for my productivity. It helps me to stay focused on my current projects, helps me plan out future ones, and make sure I remember anything else that pops into my head that seems important.

You might be wondering, why a notebook? Why not the notes app on your phone? Phones work, but I feel that writing in a notebook has a certain joy to it that can’t be replicated. Plus imagine how much smarter a person looks in a coffee shop with a notebook instead of a phone.

Anyway, what notebook should you get? Personally, I love Rhodia’s Rhodiarama softcover dot grid notebooks. The dot grid is a great compromise for someone who wants to write and diagram at the same time. Another great option is Leuchtturm1917.

Now let’s imagine that they already have a notebook or you want to get them something else besides the fantastic notebook you just got them. That brings us to our next topic.

A Great Pen (Or Pencil)

classic close up draw expensive
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Writing implements are like guitars. Any old one will do, but once you’re hooked you just want more and more and more. Just like guitars, writing implements come in a lot of flavors. So I’ll only focus on a handful.

Fountain pens might seem antiquated or mysterious but they are anything but. Nothing beats the feeling of how a good fountain pen glides across the page. A great and commonly recommended fountain pen is the pilot metropolitan. At about $20 it packs a lot of value and can accommodate a variety of refills.

If your gift recipient prefers pencils one of my favorites is the Kaweco Special S. It has all the benefits of a modern mechanical pencil and all the charms of their wooden ancestors. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also mention just about everything from Rotring, a company that is famous for the quality of its drafting pens and pencils.

Finally, what if you want to get them a more conventional writing implement? A ballpoint or rollerball perhaps? The good news about high-end pens is that they tend to be refillable. If you don’t like what it comes with you are free to try something else. And in that area, you simply can’t beat a Parker Jotter or Parker Jotter XL. These iconic pens are so iconic that the industry refers to the cartridges they take as “parker style.” Parker has made so many unique takes on this design that it’s nearly impossible not to find the perfect jotter.

But what if that special person needs a break from creating content? I’ve got that covered too.

Kindle Paperwhite

I know, I know. Nothing will ever replace the feel of a paper book. But the fact is that our homes have a finite amount of space in them and that space can all be taken up by books (or can it?). I resisted ebooks for a long time but they are invaluable for consuming content. They save space, they often go on sale, and they allow me to immediately get the next book in a series.

I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite myself. It doesn’t quite match the experience of reading a traditional book, but it comes extremely close. Kindle Unlimited is a great option too for all those voracious readers out there.

Audible

More best sellers, more podcasts, more Originals

I used to be one of those people who didn’t think that audiobooks were really books. I was a purist and I was wrong. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to catch up on reading and to expand your horizons. I especially like the Great Courses on Audible. I find that good non-fiction can provide the best inspiration for some great fiction.

I really can’t undersell the value that Audible provides for just $15 per month. There is of course the 1 credit per month that can be spent on any book. But Audible plus now comes with an entire library of free books. It’s a great chance to catch up on the classics.

An Audible subscription is free to try for a month and comes with a free book. But you can also make your own account and send audiobooks to whoever you want. It’s a gift that they probably don’t know they want but will be extremely grateful for.

Conclusion

It’s hard to find a gift for that special someone or that someone who seems to have it all. I can’t imagine having all the answers, but if you’re still in need of some check out my page of recommended products. If you are a creator who has products to sell for the holidays please link them in the comments below.

Watching Alien For The First Time

It’s the middle of NaNoWriMo but that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken a few (a lot of) breaks. During one particular break, I decided to watch Ripley Scott’s Alien after I noticed it on Prime Video.

Some movies become such a large part of popular culture that even if you haven’t seen them you might as well have. Alien is not one of those.

There are a few scenes we’ve all seen, or at least we’ve seen parodies of them. The face-hugger, the chest-burster, the alien itself. Yet most of the movie has safely stayed out of those references. That meant that most of the movie was unknown to me going in and I’m going to say that it was good. Good in that it’s well made, the effects still hold up in that they are dated by not so much that they ruin your immersion, and that I can appreciate it for what it is.

I can’t quite say that I enjoyed the movie, however. The first half is slow and I struggled to pay attention to it. By the time the plot picks up in the second half the movie is a lot more enjoyable but it was hard to follow because I struggled so much to pay attention in the first half.

That said I’m glad I watched it. It’s one of those classics that I’ve been neglecting and it’s always fun to see these older staples of the genre.

The History Behind the Character Names in ‘A Memory Called Empire’

I waited way too long to read A Memory called Empire. It’s a phenomenal book that presents readers with unfamiliar names and customs, and it’s done so well.

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan Book 1) by [Arkady Martine]

This is a book that has been sitting in my TBR pile for quite a while now and truthfully I am not done reading it, but the naming conventions interested me so much I decided to look into them a bit and write this post.

The book follows the new ambassador from Lsel Station, Mahit Dzmire, as she arrives at the imperial court of the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her first priority? Finding out what happened to her deceased predecessor. That’s enough context for now.

What I really want to talk about are the names of the characters from the Teixcalaanli Empire. The first one we meet is named Three Seagrass and we are soon introduced to many others like Nine Maize, Ninteen Adze, Six Direction, Fifteen Engine, Thirty Larkspur, and so many others. Luckily, we see all this through the eyes of a character who is new to the culture and her assigned cultural liaison is able to provide some context. In short, all names consist of a number and a noun. Parents then use certain customs such as a belief that low single digits are good luck to decide on the name of their child. It’s further implied that the noun used in their name may sometimes reflect what is important to daily life in their place of birth.

So far that’s all that’s been explained so far, it’s possible that more will come later in the book but I am impatient so I decided to do some digging. To begin, I started out looking for the historical inspiration that Arkady Martine most likely drew from in crafting the Teixcalaanli Empire. If your instinct was to think “mesoamerican” then congratulations, you and I think a lot alike.

I began in the place where all research begins, Wikipedia. There I found an account of the Mixtec king Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, or 8 Deer for short, who was the only Mixtex king to ever unit them all under one banner. The Mixtecs were later conquered in the 16th century by the Spanish and there are about 800,000 Mixtec still living in Mexico today.

Map showing the region covered by the Mixtec civilization. Imaged sourced from Wikipedia.

So that was a good start and it gave me what I needed to look a little further. As it turns out, the basis for Mixtec names came from the calendar that they used, with individuals being named after the day they were born. So Eight Deer would have been named after the day on which he was born. There are thirteen days and twenty symbols on this calendar. Eventually, I found this site which offers much more context on Mixtec names and mesoamerican culture in general.

Basically, the day a person was born would be their name as we already established, and the individual may then add to their name or change it later in life. The day a person was born was believed to reflect their future including their profession, personality, and even spouse.

So that’s the basis of names used in Arkadi Martine’s A Memory Called Empire. It’s a great bit of worldbuilding on Martine’s part. It makes complete sense that after several millennia parents would stop using the literal date to name their children and instead name them based on their hopes for their child’s future. Depending on how involved Martine chooses to get with the names later in the book, a character’s name could say a lot about what their family expects of them.

I’m not finished reading this book, but my initial impressions are nothing but positive. I really like the worldbuilding based in mesoamerican culture and can’t wait to see other ways in which that history and culture is incorporated.

Have you read A Memory Called Empire? What did you think? Did you find any good resources to learn about the historical inspirations for Arkady’s worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments!

Dan Simmons’ Mystery Box

Mystery can be a great driver of plot and a trap at the same time. J.J Abrams is notorious for using this strategy in Lost and blowing it at the end. The problem is if you set up some huge mystery at the beginning of a narrative you better have a satisfying answer to the mystery by the end. Or do you?

I would argue that you don’t. If you do it right.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, Book 1) by [Dan Simmons]

If you have a great answer to the mystery you present to your audience at the beginning then by all means share it, but if you do you better make sure you are very confident in the answer. Your audience will not thank you if your answer fails to live up to their expectations. Remember how disappointed Spongebob was to find out Patrick has just spent the entire episode hiding the string in his secret box?

I am here to argue that sometimes it’s best to leave mysteries unsolved. There is both terror and wonder in the unknown, that’s part of being human, there’s no reason the stories we tell shouldn’t reflect that.

I am using Dan Simmons as an example here because his 1989 science fiction novel “Hyperion” is fantastic. It’s the kind of “genre fiction” that gets literature snobs to lower their barriers. But I think it would have been better if Simmons had never written a sequel. Let me explain.

Hyperion, unsurprisingly, centers around the planet Hyperion. A planet at the edge of known space, one that is not incorporated into the network of gates that allow instantaneous travel between worlds.

Traveling to Hyperion means sacrificing a great deal of time and accepting a certain amount of risk. Many accept this because Hyperion is a planet of mysteries. It is one of the labyrinthine worlds, worlds with great labyrinths constructed by unknown aliens. It is also home to the Shrike and the Time Tombs. Both have been sent back in time for an unknown purpose.

shallow focus photography of gray concrete building
Photo by Sebastian Palomino on Pexels.com

One group of humans, the Shrike Church, believe that the Shrike is a punishment for humanity’s sins and traveling willingly on pilgrimages to Hyperion where most of them will be killed in various horrible ways by the Shrike. It’s strange how the bishops never go themselves, isn’t it?

The protagonists of Hyperion have all been selected for what will probably be the last Shrike pilgrimage. At the start of the book, it is stated that the Time Tombs are opening and that a group of transhumans called Ousters are about to attack the planet. There’s not much hope that the planet will hold out either. None of them are members of the Shrike Church, none of them know exactly why they were selected, all of them have their own reasons for accepting the missions.

The book is a futuristic retelling of the Canterbury Tales. In between chapters that narrate their journey to the planet and their attempts to determine who among them might be a spy, they each share their stories about what led them to accept their place on the pilgrimage.

Through their stories and their motivations, Simmons explores imperialism, artistic integrity, betrayal, love, artificial intelligence, technological reincarnation, fatherhood, and many more themes. In some ways, the book is also a love letter to John Keats.

In the end, despite their differences, they joined hands and walked to their fate. Then the book ends. The series should have ended there too.

photo of people near wooden table
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Instead, Simmons continued to write in this universe, which eventually became the Hyperion Cantos. The second book, The Fall of Hyperion, wasn’t that bad. It largely follows an artificial reincarnation of John Keats and much of the book’s events are told through his experiences. But we also see the POVs of the characters from the first novel. This is where the problem arises.

In writing the second novel Simmons had to explain all of the questions that arose in the first. In doing so he brings up a lot of interesting ideas that were totally unprecedented in the first novel. So instead of leaving the mysteries of the first book as mysteries, he chose to answer them with time-traveling agents from the future and messianic powers that came out of nowhere.

The first book was an amazing opportunity to explore multiple stories at once, to get close to deeply flawed characters with mixed motivations for being where they are, and to see them accept the uncertain future in front of them. I think the series would have ended beautifully with just one book. Instead, Simmons decided to keep writing.

That’s not to say that I hated the second book. I enjoyed most of it. Just not as much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the concepts introduced in the first actually mattered in the second. Powers that destroy the Shrike don’t bother me as long as we the readers were given reason to think they might be possible beforehand.

But we weren’t.

I keep looking at the third book on my shelf and I don’t know if I can convince myself to read it. Hyperion is a great book and if it was the only book of the Hyperion Cantos that you read it will likely remain a great book in your eyes. Because the answers provided in the later books simply don’t hold up to the questions posed by the first. If you haven’t read Hyperion yet then you definitely should, but consider skipping the books that follow.