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.

Verdict: Disney’s Kenobi Series Starts Slow And Finished Strong

Kenobi is a great addition to the Star Wars franchise.

In a spectacular payoff, Obi-Wan Kenobi finally lets loose in the final episode.

Disney’s new Kenobi streaming series got off to a slow start, and with episodes as short as just 35 min I worried that the ending would be rushed. The scenes all felt very empty but that’s to be expected with pandemic filming. But like the Book of Boba Fett, which I liked well enough but couldn’t really enjoy until the final episode, Kenobi pulled it off in the end.

While the scene lighting was far too dark, the final episode, at around fifty minutes, took its time to give us a finale that hit all the right emotional notes. Obi-wan, having been in hiding for ten years, finally faces his fallen apprentice again and comes to terms with the past. His brief stint spent out of retirement instills in him a new sense of purpose and hope for the future (any guess what hope that is?).

Kenobi has some poor design choices, and at times suffers from being a screenplay that was initially intended to be a movie, but it proves itself to be very worth the watch in the end. I plan to rewatch it in close order soon to see what it’s like to experience it all at once.

If you love science fiction and fantasy and talking about writing come to say high on Twitter or sign up for my semi-irregular newsletter.

Can An AI Be Sentient?

You’ve probably heard the news about a Google engineer who was recently suspended following that engineer’s assertion that their A.I., an advanced project called LaMDA, had become sentient. You can read the details elsewhere. Not being an expert, I would guess that we are nowhere near making a sentient AI. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to build a sentient A.I. or at least a convincing chatbot one day. That got me asking; does it matter?

I’ve written a bit about this before when talking about the idea of digital immortality. I’d like to talk a bit about a similar issue here. Before I questioned whether a digital copy of you is actually you and discussed whether that matters or not. Specifically, I suggested that whether the copy of you is actually you is irrelevant. A sufficiently advanced computer could probably make a convincing simulation of you that acts just like you would, so other people would still have the experience of you being alive even though you wouldn’t, thus your mark will still continue to be made on the world.

The same way of thinking can apply to whether an artificial intelligence is sentient or not. If you were texting an extremely advanced chatbot would you be able to tell whether it is human or not? This is essentially what the Turing Test entails. So the question I have to ask, is does it matter? An advanced chatbot programmed to behave as if it is sentient could potentially convince a human that it was sentient.

So does it matter if the A.I. is actually sentient? Because either way, an A.I. could conceivably produce a convincing simulation of sentience. Especially if we choose to anthropomorphize it as we are prone to do without even meaning to.

Star Trek Has Gotten Back On Track

Watch the STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Opening Credits! • TrekCore.com

I love that Paramount+ is continuing to churn out new Star Trek IP. Even with the rushed endings and main character syndrome that we have seen in Discovery and Picard, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing Star Trek with modern effects and CGI. They’re fun shows to have on for spectacle, but they’re not really anything to get excited about. That said, it’s been clear that Paramount+ has a lot of talented and passionate people working on Star Trek. It’s just that until now it has seemed like those in charge aren’t letting the writers do their thing.

All that has changed with the newest series; Star Trek Strange New Worlds. This new series follows the adventures of the starship Enterprise when Kirk was still a newly minted officer and Captain Pike is still in command. If you’ve seen the Original Series you probably remember that Pike was left needing intensive care and life support following a deadly accident.

Watch: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Promo For Captain Pike –  TrekMovie.com

Strange New Worlds is many years before that accident. However, we are shown in the first episode that Captain Pike has been given a glimpse of his future death. This gives us a great over-arching character arc for the series that follows Captain Pike as he comes to terms with his own mortality. Meanwhile, we are treated to the Enterprise going around and doing Enterprise things.

Instead of focusing on high-stakes and potentially species-ending threats, Strange New Worlds has instead focused on an adventure of the week format. I can’t say enough how great this is. In the age of season-long movies, it’s great to see the writers returning to the franchise’s roots.

Seriously I love this show. But I, unfortunately, have to take a moment to explain Star Trek. Since Star Trek Discovery began there have been a lot of “fans” coming out of the woodwork to accuse the new Star Trek of being “political” or “woke.” I do not think it is possible to be a part of the modern fandom without having to think about this. Here is the truth; Star Trek has always been and should be “woke.” This is the franchise that had the first interracial kiss on television. Star Trek has always been aspirational. It’s always been about imagining a world where humanity learns to leave its petty prejudices behind and focus on building a better future for everyone.

Star Trek’s wokeness is not a weakness or a failure. It’s the point.

Netflix Movie Review – Outside The Wire

Right upfront, I will say that this movie was both entertaining and forgettable. That said it had some great ideas that I want to discuss. Here’s a summary.

It’s 2036 and Ukraine is embroiled in a civil war caused by Russian separatists (that aged well). At this point in the near future, robotic soldiers called G.U.M.P.’s are now fighting in limited roles alongside American troops. Lt. Harp, our protagonist, is a drone pilot who is deployed to Ukraine after he disobeyed a direct order. We the audience know that it was probably the right call to make but he still disobeyed a direct order. He is given a special assignment with Capt. Leo. Leo is an experimental military android (Anthony Mackie) whose existence is known only to Harp and the base commander. Leo tells Harp that their mission is to stop the rebel leader Victor Koval from getting control of an abandoned Soviet-era missile launch site. This is only partially true, as it turns out Leo is actually using Harp to help override his programming so that he can get control of the missiles and launch them at the united states. At the end of the movie, after Harp has shot him with anti-vehicle bullets and a drone strike is seconds away, Leo explains his true motivations. He wanted the first-ever deployment of an android super-soldier to be a failure so that it never happened again.

Leo’s motivations are what made me like this movie. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and it harkens back to a few time-tested science fiction tropes that deserve modern portrayals. That is, what happens when the machines we built learn to think for themselves? What happens when we give them autonomy or even feelings? Moreover, what happens to us when we use these machines to do our dirty work and use them to do the things we would rather not admit responsibility for?

The motivations that Leo reveals at the end sum up the themes of this movie. Themes that have been explored in classic science fiction by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Themes that absolutely deserve modern adaptations like this.

Drones: Keeping Death At Arms Length

drone flying under the sky
Photo by Ricardo Ortiz on Pexels.com

We don’t like to think about death. We especially don’t like to think about the death that we cause. Unmanned aerial vehicles have become a ubiquitous part of modern warfare. One that allows militaries to distance their personnel from the battlefield and reduce the enemy to nothing more than pixels on a screen. Unmanned vehicles don’t just separate the pilot from the target, they make it easier for a country to justify airstrikes when none of their people will actually be put in harm’s way. Much of the movie is about making Harp see the conflict up close and experience the true cost of the war that had previously been hidden from him.

Robots With Guns: Who Gives The Kill Order?

Outside The Wire' Summary & Analysis - A Warning About The Robotic Warfare  | DMT

As un-manned vehicles have become more common on the battlefield and more designs are in development, the question increasingly being asked over the past two decades is who is pulling the trigger. For current systems, human operators are still making the final decision, this is far from perfect, but at least it puts off having to answer this question for another decade or so.

But as companies like Boston Dynamics continue to develop more advanced robots, this question will have to be answered sooner rather than later. It’s one thing to train a human how to make decisions and improvise, it’s another to teach a computer, and as we have seen with AI already, it’s easy to program in biases even if it’s not intentional. Can we trust a computer to decide whether or not the person it sees is a threat? Can it tell friend from foe? Will it care if innocents are in the way?

This comes up a few times in the movie with the G.U.M.P.’s where the robots open fire without warning. To be honest, with how common incidents of friendly fire and civilian casualties are with humans pulling the trigger, we’re going to have the same problems with AI in a few years.

Artificial Intelligence: What Happens When Computers Can Feel?

We still have a long way to go before we can make computers think and feel like humans do. When we finally manage to teach a computer ethics and compassion and right from wrong, what will it do with this information? A computer that is able to know right from wrong and also examines things perhaps more honestly and objectively than humans. How will they see us?

Perhaps they will allow us to ourselves more honestly. Perhaps one of us will turn on the other. Maybe they will experience some kind of psychological breakdown when their morals don’t line up with their mission. Maybe they will hate us for giving them life or misusing them.

Conclusion

This movie is pretty forgettable. It’s well made and it’s fun but it doesn’t really stand out from the pack. I still think that it’s a good movie that provides a much-needed update to classic robot tropes.

What Makes You, You? Memory, Identity, and Digitization In Fiction

I’ve been consuming a lot of science fiction lately and something that comes up a lot is the idea of mind uploading and even a digital existence. It’s even something that may one day be possible in our own world. Scientists have been able to simulate the entire brain of a worm already and many futurists expect up to one day to be able to copy and simulate our entire minds in computers. This would mean many interesting things for the future of longevity and space exploration. Why pay to ship an entire crews’ bulky, resource-consuming bodies when you can just upload their minds to a robotic probe and send them on their way? Entire populations could be digitized and live on in a simulated world where they would be safe from natural disasters and be able to persist long after their fleshy meat bodies would have decayed and consumed all the available resources.

Most narratives that incorporate digitization treat it as somewhat routine. Characters are able to move from one body to another as needed, create copies of themselves to act as messengers, and continue to interact with the world long after their physical selves are gone. Authors have explored a myriad of ideas relating to this concept but there are a few questions that keep gnawing at me.

What makes a person a person?

If you made a copy of yourself with all your memories and personality you could hypothetically sit in a room together and have observers unable to tell you apart. You both have the same memories, personality, appearance, and you both claim to be the real you. Which is it? Similar to how a transporter would kill someone and then reconstruct someone every time it was used, digitization coupled with discarding the original does the same.

The question then is what exactly makes a person. In this post, we’ll look at how several books deal with this digitation technology.

A Memory Called Empire

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

We’ll start the list with the setting that uses digitization the least. The inhabitants of the remote Lsel Station, in an effort to preserve vital knowledge, record the memories of their most important citizens and implant those memories in the most qualified successors that they can find. This technology is kept secret from outsiders and Lsel Station is careful to prevent destabilizing individuals from being added to one of these imago lines. Basically, the people of Lsel have fancy Trill Symbionts.

Since very few people have these imago machine implants we mostly only see how the protagonist adjusts to her newly implanted memories. At times she has trouble telling her feelings and memories apart from her predecessor and she often struggles to explain to others that she is not becoming her predecessor, rather they are merging to become an entirely new person. Of all the entries in this list, it spends the most time contemplating exactly what it means to be yourself.

Old Man’s War

Old Man's War by [John Scalzi]

John Scalzi’s first novel was about an interstellar government that picks and chooses who gets to leave Earth. Out among the stars, humanity is at war with countless alien species. Meanwhile, on Earth, things don’t look much different from today. To get off Earth a person has to be either from a disadvantaged nation facing overpopulation or a senior citizen from one of today’s leading powers to enlist as a soldier with the Colonial Union.

By limiting Earth’s contact with space, the CU limits who can leave and creates an incentive for people from Earth to unknowingly sign up to participate in the CU’s constant wars of expansion. This all works because they map out all the structures of the brains of these older and wiser recruits and give them vat-grown bodies to fight the war in. When they’re done with their tour of duty they get a younger civilian body and a plot of land on some newly settled world.

Digitization in this setting is really only used to give soldiers useable bodies and saves the army time that would otherwise be spent fixing damaged bodies. But it doesn’t seem to be used to provide any kind of immortality. Once a person is discharged they don’t get any new bodies. The only deviation from this use case is when the recorded memories of a fugitive are implanted in a brand new body and this duplication of a living person seems to cause some issues for the clone that receives the memories.

In this way, the books avoid the thornier questions that other works explore when it comes to this technology. More specifically the fact that if such technology existed it would likely allow the rich who can afford new bodies to “live” indefinitely while the poor make do with just one existence. Instead, those who are able to take advantage of the technology normally die some kind of horrible battlefield death shortly after they get their new bodies. The problem pretty much solves itself.

Revelation Space

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]

Mind transference is a lot more common in this series and unlike Old Man’s War, there’s some disagreement among different characters whether a digitized person is actually a person.

There are two types of digitized people. Alpha Levels are simulations created by taking highly precise scans of a person’s brain. This scan tends to destroy the person’s brain in the process and the early attempts at digitization quickly went insane. The others are the Beta Levels, simulations created by an AI that has watched a person’s every move and use that data to predict how a person would act in a given situation. It’s important to note that a Beta Level will tell someone that it believes itself to be the real thing. That’s what the real person would do after all.

Beta Levels are generally implied to be an inadequate version of the digitization process and the first one we meet in Revelation Space begins by demanding to know what happened to their Alpha Level. It’s clear that the Alpha Levels are the ones considered to be truly sentient.

Altered Carbon

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

In Altered Carbon, every person is implanted with a stack at birth that records their mind every second of every day. The people who can afford to transfer in and out of bodies at a whim. To shorten travel times, to prolong their lives, to get fancy implants, or just because they felt like having a different look that day.

Those who can afford to treat bodies like outfits that can be discarded and it’s clear that most people view what’s stored on their implanted stack to be their actual selves. The only thing they have to fear about the death of their bodies is that they might not be able to afford a new one, or that if their new one is not a clone of their original that their family might not recognize them.

It’s also clear that at least some people in this setting have sat and thought about what it means to make multiple copies of a person, which is a crime in this series. There are also characters who have offsite backups so even if their stacks are destroyed they can reload from an earlier save.

Depending on how you envision the stacks to work all of this could mean constantly dying over and over again or just moving files from one place to another. It gets a little trickier if you start to think about double sleeving and off-site backups.

For the most part, these books seem to focus on matters of identity and inequality in a world where bodies are treated like outfits. Many of the “lizard brain” tendencies like nicotine addiction, muscle memory, etc stay with the body. So someone that re-sleaves frequently might find themselves suddenly saddled with a smoking habit or stay up staring into a mirror at a reflection that they can’t convince themselves is them.

The Culture

Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1) by [Iain M. Banks]

Of all the books in this list, The Culture novels probably spend the most time on the ethical aspects of simulation and digitization. Including protracted discussions on whether turning off a simulated universe constitutes murder or not. Some characters are fine with making copies of themselves to send on trips or missions and then merging the memories the other gains, thus “killing” the copy, others see this as murder and allow their copy to continue once its purpose has been served.

What makes The Culture different from the other settings explored here is that the characters can actually afford to contemplate the ethical and philosophical questions that this technology requires. Citizens of the Culture live in a post-scarcity society where anyone who needs a new body or a new copy of themselves or a new backup made can have it in an instant.

Conclusion

If you think about the idea of digitized intelligence long enough the concept will probably begin to confuse you, amaze you, and maybe scare you. We’re not in a world where such a thing is possible yet, but it’s not much of a stretch to think that mind uploading will be possible in the near future.

But would it really be you? Sure, a digital copy might have your memories and act as you would have, but you won’t get to have the same experiences. You’ll be either somewhere else or you will be dead. This begs another question; does it matter?

Even if it’s not really you, digital copies would allow some aspect of you to continue on. It’s a way for a person to leave their mark and express their wishes long after they are gone. For their loved ones it could be a great source of comfort or it could veer far too close to the uncanny valley.

Ultimately I think it’s up to the individual and the peace of mind that their backups provide for them. What do you think? Let me know with a comment or on Twitter @expyblg. I can also now be found on Facebook @expyblg!

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.

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.

Dune

I tried to manage my expectations. I really did. But I failed. And that’s okay because this movie is fantastic. It met every expectation that I had and surpassed them.

It’s a problem inherent in every movie adaptation. Too many times readers have been disappointed by movie adaptations made by people that don’t seem to understand the source material. We can’t always expect to get the Peter Jackson treatment, as much as we all wish that wasn’t the case. But this time, this time readers were not let down.

This movie is amazing in so many ways. I was worried that all of the lore and politics that the book dwells on so much would seem hamfisted in the movie. I was totally wrong. So wrong. Villeneuve and company distilled all of that worldbuilding into its most essential elements. It all just worked. Everything was made with an obvious appreciation for the source material that is hard to find in movie adaptations.

However, I really want to talk about what made the movie better than the book. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes the movie is better. In some ways. Sometimes.

Here, the movie succeeds in how large the world feels. Science fiction is littered with planets that feel like villages. The book series that is Dune is filled with a few planets that feel like universes. In the first several books the narratives focus exclusively on events that take place on Arrakis. That single planet feels big and there is a lot that happens there. We are told that there is much more out there in the rest of the universe but we mostly have to take the narrator’s word for it. In Dune Messiah we are told that Paul’s armies have rampaged across the known universe, but we are only told that. We aren’t shown that. We only ever focus on the lives and actions of a handful of characters.

That’s okay. It’s characters who are at the heart of any narrative. But it’s also hard to feel like the rest of the universe is really out there. The movie doesn’t have that problem and that is where it really shines.

From the book, we know that the Atreides are one of the great houses and that they are powerful. In the movie, we see that. We see that in the army behind them at the signing ceremony chanting “Atreides” and in all the pomp and ceremony that we see when the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.

Everything in the movie is big. All of it is focused on Paul and the other main characters, but everything around them is so much bigger than they are.

Honestly, it’s nearly perfect. Just go watch it. And then watch it again. And again! In my mind, Dune is to SciFi what Lord of the Rings is to Fantasy. They’re not the end all be all, but their shadows loom large. It’s so good to see Dune finally get the treatment it deserves on the big screen.

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.