Review: Olympos by Dan Simmons


Olympos by Dan Simmons
2005, Harper Voyager

Review Summary: Overall, there are a couple of high points and amusements in the book, but not enough to save it from its tedious length.

Full Review:

Let me preface this review by saying I consider Endymion and Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons to be two of the finest books I own, and that the opening sentence of Endymion is the all-time best first sentence I have ever read. That said, I found Olympos to be even more disappointing than Ilium, the first book in this pair.

In Ilium, at least, the ideas were fairly fresh – a bizarre, modern-day recreation of the battle of Troy, complete with gods, an advanced and diverse collection of human DNA-based robots creating their own civilization around Jupiter and its moons and asteroids, an eloi-like human civilization on Earth, who’s way of life was coming crashing down around the innocents’s heads… all of this had great potential, and Ilium managed to hook me well enough that I could get through the not-so-good parts of the novel chasing after these ideas.

Unfortunately, the sequel’s conclusion – the explanation of how all these interesting elements came to be – was a major disappointment. 1175 pages into a two-book series (of 1415) is not the time you want to find out that the explanation of the story is “metaphysical garbage” and “total horse manure”, in the words of one of the novel’s characters. At least in the first book I was also learning something about Shakespeare’s sonnets and about the Iliad, neither of which I have read in their entirety. With Olympus, I was stuck only with a brief, repetitive discussion of Proust, and the tail results of Simmons’s poorly realized characters from the first novel.

I did finally, unlike in Ilium, capture a moment of Simmon’s eloquence and insight in one passage, where one of the characters reflects on her relationship with her husband:

Ada realized that what she would miss most if Harman were dead – miss as much as the essence of her beloved – was his embodiment of her future. Not her fate, but her future – the ineffable sense that tomorrow meant seeing Harman, laughing with Harman, eating with Harman, discussing their unborn child with Harman, even disagreeing with Harman – she would forevermore miss the sense that the continuation of her life was more than another day of breathing, but was the gift of another day of engagement with her beloved across the spectrum of all things. (150)

Unfortunately, one passage out of over fourteen thousand pages is less than I would prefer.

Overall, there are a couple of high points and amusements in the book, but not enough to save it from its tedious length. The god Hephaestus is the only new character of any real interest in the second book, and none of the pre-existing characters do anything extraordinarily inspiring. As mentioned above, the reason that all of this bizarreness exists is unsatisfying, and the conclusions to the various plotlines are either predictable or unimaginatively unfinished. Sadly, it is just a relief to finish the book – after watching the various stories wind down, I couldn’t care less what happens to any of them.

10/02/06 CSL

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