This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
Hyperion initially struck me as a dense, confusing book. Though this may sound like a complaint, it is actually a quality I appreciate in science fiction and fantasy books. Rather than explaining in painstaking detail what makes this world unique, Simmons allows for the explanations to evolve naturally throughout the book. I think I prefer this strategy because it allows the author to assume that all these things are real and thus obvious to the reader and ultimately draws me into the story more than if everything had to be explained. Again, as I mentioned with my discussion on America America, it gives the reader the feeling that we are just being told a story by a friend, rather than having a story made up for our entertainment.
My favorite aspect of Hyperion, however, is the format in which the story is told. The vast majority of the novel consists of the 6 short stories that the pilgrims tell to one another. Not only are each of these stories fun to read in and of themselves, but they also reveal important qualities of the Shrike, the Time Tombs, or of this futuristic universe in general. As I read, this struck me as an extremely unique method to tell a story. However, at the same time I had to wonder "Is this really unique or am I just not familiar with the other works that use a similar strategy?" One book that was brought to my attention that may use this technique is Canterbury Tales, but I'm not familiar enough to make an evaluation at this point. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to read it soon and make a more detailed analysis.
While I enjoyed the separate tales, there was one aspect of them that I was disappointed with. Though each tale was told by a completely different person, they felt similar in tone and style (Martin's tale is probably the primary exception to this in terms of tone). For the most part it just felt as though the same person was telling wildly different stories instead of many different people telling their own story. There were some exceptions, such as Martin Silenus as I mentioned above, or how we learned of Father Dure and Merin's stories through their own journals. Still, in spite of these differences, they still felt too similar considering how varied the characters themselves were. To be fair, though, I can imagine it would be extremely difficult to make each stories tone and style different without resorting to extravagant or annoying devices. In other words, while I present this as a complaint, it certainly is not enough to detract from the book as a whole
My final, and most severe, complaint is about the ending. When I finished it, I immediately thought "this is either annoying because Simmons just stopped writing this book and left all the explanations for the sequel or I completely missed the point." Having spoken with others who have read both books, however, it seems that my former reaction was correct. This is, frankly, ridiculous. I don't mind mysterious or vague endings to books, but this was just absurd and, unless that was the point, I would have rather he concluded with the revelation that the Consul had betrayed them all than this bizarre Wizard of Oz reference.
In spite of any criticisms, however, I enjoyed Hyperion immensely and I strongly recommend it to all science fiction fans. The unique structure, the fascinating world and characters, and the mysteries that he presents kept me thoroughly engaged from beginning to end. Not surprisingly, I look forward to reading the sequel.
In terms of the specific tales, I think Father Hoyt's and Sol Weintraub's were the most emotionally engaging, and thus they were my favorites. As an interesting aside, I couldn't help but compare the short section where Rachel is trying to maintain a relationship with her lover in spite of losing another day of memories every day to the movie 50 First Dates. This is an odd comparison, but the similarities were impossible to ignore, and I wonder if the movie was inspired by this section of the book, or if there is a tertiary source that inspired them both.
"Here is the essence of mankind's creative genius: not the edifices of civilization nor the bang-flash weapons which can end it, but the words which fertilize new concepts like the spermatozoa attacking an ovum."Dan Simmons in Hyperion