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April 8, 2004

Ilium by Dan Simmons

by Dan Simmons
Science Fiction
576 pages

I know it is probably sacrilege to say this, but I did not like Simmons' Hyperion. Almost everyone who reads science fiction has read Hyperion at some point, and almost everyone loves it. I did not like it. For this reason I have hesitated to pick up Simmons' other books. But no longer. I thouroughly enjoyed Ilium. In fact, I found it difficult to put down.

Ilium tells three stories. One is of a future earth where the inhabitants live like the eloi of The Time Machine, oblivious to the dangers that await them. They dream of becoming a "post-human" which is a future race of man that left Earth for the stars many years ago. That story was OK. Another story is about a group of robot/organic like creatures that have been sent from the moons of Jupiter to investigate (and possibly destroy) whatever is producing dangerous levels of quantum flux coming from the planet Mars. That story is OK. The rest of the book is filled with the story of Homer's Iliad, only it is told in from a science fiction point of view, and it is very cool.

Thomas Hockenberry is a "scholic," or a scholar specializing in Homer's famous book that has been raised from the dead by the gods residing on Olympos Mons on Mars. I know what you are thinking, just stay with me. The gods are the same gods we all learned about in school: Apollo, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, and of course Zeus, plus a myriad of others. The gods teleport back and forth from Troy (or Ilium) to Olympos Mons to influence the Trojan War and report to Zeus on how it is progressing. Hockenberry also reports on the battle, and how closely it stays true to Homer's telling, but he reports to a Muse. One day the Muse tells him that Aphrodite wants to see him. This is highly unusual. Aphrodite tells him that she wants him to kill Athena, and she gives him a bunch of fancy tools to allow him to spy on her and actual perform the dirty deed. One is a QT device which allows him to teleport himself anywhere in space and time, and another is Hades Helmet, which will make him invisible to both humans and gods (except Aprhodite). As you might imagine, Hockenberry decides early on to start using these tools for his own purposes, and the story of the Iliad drastically changes as a result. And it is so very cool how it changes.

The three stories come together at the end. But again, the story of the gods and heroes takes center stage. Just who are these "gods?" Are the same gods we read about in college? Or are they the post humans who left Earth to settle somewhere else? And are the heroes the same heroes we all know and love? Achilles is there, as is Hector, and Diomedes, and Odysseus. But are they the same as Homer wrote about so many years ago? Or is this a parallel universe of some sort? The reader never really finds out for sure, but there will be a sequel (Olympos) and let me tell you after reading this you will want to read it. I wish I could tell you what Achilles says to Zeus at the end! My jaw dropped to the floor. But I don't want to ruin it for you!

Read Ilium if you want to read an alternative version of the Iliad. I will warn you, though, that the book almost crosses the line into goofy science fiction that is difficult to follow, but whenever the reader returns to the story of the plains of Ilium, the book is very difficult to put down. Can't wait for Olympos!

Posted by snackeru at April 8, 2004 10:19 PM | Books


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