Reviewed: July 13, 2009
By: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Harper / Torch
725 pages, $8.99
They’re fighting the Trojan War on Mars. For reasons that are never completely
clear, the entire cast of Homer’s Iliad has been assembled to stage a
recreation of the epic battle.
Who has assembled them? Well, it seems that the entire pantheon of Greek gods
has done the deed and that that they have seeded the battle with resurrected
“scholics” to make sure that events unfold the way they have been
We learn this from our first person narrator, Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D., brought
back to life to serve the Muses, gifted with the ability to morph his shape,
to be invisible when he choses, to teleport from place to place.
Wait, I’m talking about technical tricks, aren’t I? These “gods”
are using technology. They are practising Clarke’s Theorem, which says
that any sufficiently advanced technology will appear to be magic to those who
don’t know how it works.
We are in a post-human world here, and the post-humans, who may be slightly
insane, have remade themselves as gods, but not without imposing consequences
on the rest of the solar system.
There are still normal people (more or less - there’s been some tinkering)
around, and one of Simmons' plot threads has us following a group of them around
in their pointless existence. In their banality they are like the Eloi of Well’s
The Time Machine. Just why the post-humans have maintained a herd of them is
not clear. They lack any sense of history, are served (or perhaps herded) by
machines in their fancy mansions. They live for a century in lives marked off
in groups of 20 years, at the end of which they ascend to some mysterious place
for a body tune-up and return for the next 20 until the end.
One group goes traveling. They meet an original human, the Wandering Jew. They
learn of hundreds of thousands of people trapped in what Star Trek bafflegab
would call a transporter buffer. They meet Odysseus, who is somehow the same
and yet not the same as the man in the Trojan reconstruction. They learn of
many mysteries and they are forced to grow up.
Meanwhile, mankind’s other progeny, the deep space exploring robot machines,
have themselves evolved into self-replicating cyborgs. Called moravecs (a reference
to Canadian futurist Hans Moravec), these beings have long been fascinated by
their human creators, and often have specialty hobbies involving aspects of
human culture. The one we get to know best. Mahnmut, is a devotee of Shakespeare,
while his companion, Orphu, loves the work of Proust. They have some interesting
conversations during their long journey from the moons of Jupiter, where they
live and work, to Mars, where something strange is happening.
They have been sent, along with two other companions, to investigate the massive
surges of quantum based energy emanating from the Red Planet. These surges and
their attendant wormholes threaten to destabilize the solar system and the machine
minds of Jupiter want to know what is going on, and want to put a stop to it
it they can.
Simmons has moved though nearly every type of genre writing during his career.
There are horror novels, fantasy novels, science fiction novels, thrillers,
hard boiled detective novels and, most recently, historical novels. He must
give bookshop clerks the heebie-jeebies. There’s no way, for instance,
that Children of Night belongs on the same shelf display with Darwin’s
Blade, Hard as Nails, The Terror, Hyperion or Ilium. You’d either have
to have a Dan Simmons’ section, or scatter him all over the store.
The other thing about Simmons is that he has a distinct voice for each type
of writing that he attempts. His SF novels have a similar tone. His work in
The Terror felt very 19th century, even when it was in the present tense, I’m
looking forward to Drood, his retelling of Charles Dickens' last novel, written
as if by his friend, Wilkie Collins.
In the meantime however, I intend to read on. Book two of this saga, Olympos,
awaits me. Ilium ends on a more or less satisfactory cliffhanger (well, three
cliffhangers, really) but i wa not put of by this. As the book reaches its end
there is an exchange between Hockenberry and his fellow scholic, Nightenhelser.
Nightenhelser: “Do you know what’s going to happen next there? In
your new world?
Hockenberry: “Not a clue. But it’s going to be damned interesting
to find out what happens next.”