Mon, 07 Mar 2005
After the tedious Quicksilver, Ilium was a welcome change. It's a wonderful blend of science fiction and Greek myth.
As Simmons' Hyperion was infused with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, so Ilium works from Homer's Iliad. One of the central events of the book is the siege of Troy. In Ilium, however, the gods are more science fiction than fantasy--they accomplish their majestic feats via nanotechnology and quantum manipulation. And the events in the Iliad are only a rough third of the events in Ilium.
The book opens with the words of a twentieth-century Homeric scholar, in a very deliberate reference to the opening of the Iliad. That scholar has been resurrected by the gods and sent to observe the unfolding of events that shaped the Iliad. The following chapter introduces humans living on Earth several thousand years past the 20th century, in a world largely abandoned--the "post-humans" meddled with the planet, cleaned up some of their mess, and left it to the old-style humans, whose lives they continue to regulate. The third chapter sets the stage for the third storyline, involving sentient organic/inorganic machines that live and work among the moons of Jupiter.
Into all three storylines, the reader is dropped without much backstory; the shape of the world in which the characters live must be gleaned from details in the story's telling. And the threads don't tie themselves together until a distance into the book.
The single best thing about the book, however, is the writing. Simmons does a very good job of taking these disparate threads, blending them together while painting the backdrop for the story, and weaving a thoroughly engaging tale.
Ilium certainly deserves its Hugo nomination. I can't speak to whether it should win, since I haven't read most of its competitors, but if it does, I'll not be disappointed.