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February 19th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

OlymposOlympos, by Dan Simmons (EOS 2005)

I first became acquainted with Dan Simmons at the suggestion of  a colleague. After some prodding I was finally persuaded to pick up Ilium, the predecessor to Olympos. Ilium is itself an example of science fiction writing at its best. That is to say, it is a wonderful piece of writing. The science is good but does not intrude, and can be safely ignored. One must imagine a distant future that includes a Homeric scholar’s first hand account of the events of the Iliad (as he shuttles between what he takes to be Troy of the ancient past and the gods of Olympos Mons) a narrative from the perspective of two deep-space cybernetic creatures (called “morvacs,” who also have a great deal of interest in Shakespeare and Proust) and a wider ranging narrative of the humans of this future. Normally such shifts in narratives can be confusing, but Simmons actually employs the narrative shifts to make it more obvious where the story is going. So much so that one isn’t even conscious of the devise until the three narratives start to join.  And, while the cybernetic creatures that converse in great depth over Shakespeare (and Proust), characters from the Tempest take residence on an Earth whose denizens have forgotten who the Bard is. After reading Ilium, I simply had to pick up Olympos. I was not disappointed.

Ilium ends with the events in Troy—which had been following Homer very closely—running off the rails and with two of the three narratives starting to merge. Olympos picks up a few weeks after Ilium closes. A far more attentive reader than I will quickly pick up that snatches of non-Homeric stories of the heroes of Trojan war start cropping up. Fortunately, Simmons clues in the classically ignorant. Simmons is not showing off here nor trying to join tales that have not business together.  This small detail actually fits into the engine that drives the larger plot and Olympos is filled with such details.  (Hint: that force is a not uncommon devise of science fiction writers to link quantum uncertainty with consciousness.).

Back on the the present-day earth (“present” being relative to the movacs time) what at first seemed to have been a triumph has degenerated into what might be the extinction of the the human species. One’s expectation—that the three story lines would start to merge—is dashed as the stories start to fragment even as events disintegrate. Yet in all of this there are clues that assure the reader that everything will start to come together, will start to makes sense, that we are one the cutting edge between hopeful resolution and complete and utter disaster. Simmons artfully steers the reader on this knife edge through some of the fastest six-hundred pages one is likely to encounter.

Jimm Wetherbee

Olympos is no longer held, but if it looks good, you can still get it on InterLibrary Loan.