Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ilium and Olympos (thoughts)

So, I ended up reading Iluim and Olympos by Dan Simmons as two of my Chunkster Challenges (they come to 1,643 pages-more than War and Peace). It's a two-book series, that should probably be published as one extra-large book, since the action continues seamlessly. As a disclaimer, I'm not a sci-fi fan. While I occasionally read fantasy (mainly David Eddings), I've never enjoyed a science-fiction book.

That being said, I was favourably impressed with Ilium. The plot is complicated, involving three main threads. In the first one, Simmons essentially decides to retell Homer's The Iliad in a sci-fi setting. In the second one, people are on Earth, but their lives are pretty unrecognisable for a twenty-first century human. In the third one, these robots (with some living parts) from Jupiter are flying out to Mars (where The Iliad is happening) and talking about Western literature (Shakespeare and Proust, mainly). Sound weird? Well, Simmons manages his stories pretty well, alternating between the three plots mainly by chapter. It's a good device for maintaining tension. Also, he manages to ground the book by strongly developing a handful of characters in each situation. That way, the reader always has a handle on what's going on. I actually raced through Ilium, occasionally glossing over uber-tech passages, because I truly cared about what would happen to the characters. I thought the plot was a little out of the box, but workable.

So, a little annoyed that Ilium ended so quickly, but curious about the characters' fates, I picked up Olympos. And everything fell apart. Simmons tried to combine The Tempest and The Odyssey in with The Iliad. It was bloody painful. I only stuck with it to see how he would manage to bring everything together. In the end, all of the plots collided, but at the point it felt so rigged and silly that I could hardly keep from laughing. The plot just became more and more outlandish, reminding me of why I don't like sci-fi. I'm not even going to attempt a plot summary; it would take just about as long as the book.

Would I recommend these books? Honestly, no. I would have recommended Ilium, but you can't read it and then not read Olympos. And Olympos is an 892-page waste of time.


Yen said...

I just finished Ilium, which was fine but not great, and was hoping to find a plot summary to determine if Olympos was worth it. It seems like it was not so thanks for saving me ~892 pages of reading.

As for SciFi generally, I find it fails with slightly more regularity than most other fiction but there are Gems to be had. I'd recommend Dune, Ender's Game and possibly Neuromancer (people tend to love or hate Gibson).

TO find very good SciFi you can just select almost anything off the Hugo or Nebula award winners list from past years and not be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I read and enjoyed Ilium (as well as the entire Hyperion Cantos) and I think Dan Simmons is a great writer. I, too, struggled with Olympos. It took me weeks to finish it and the plot just became ridiculous, even for Sci-Fi. Don't count that against his Hyperion series, though - those are worth re-reading over and over again.