Monday, January 17, 2011

I can't read that, Part 2

I met Dan Simmons when I was in high school, at some book event in downtown Denver. Many writers were in attendance, but only one wrote science fiction. Naturally, I tracked down the nearest book seller, bought two of Simmons' books -- "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion" -- and trotted up to his table to ask him to sign them. I remember him being a nice guy. He drew a little cartoon face of himself on the title page of one of the books. When I got home that afternoon, I opened up "Hyperion" and started reading right away.

A little context: "Hyperion" won the Hugo and Locus awards in 1990. It wasn't nominated for the Nebula, which kind of surprises me (although "The Fall of Hyperion" was later on).

When I first tackled "Hyperion," I was 16 or 17. The plot structure was an unfamiliar one for me: several characters on a journey, telling their stories to one another along the way. The first story told wasn't even about the character who was telling it but about a priest, Father Dure, who falls in with a tribe of strange creatures. Those creatures lead the priest through a ceremony in which an organic cross-shaped thing attaches itself to his chest and extends its roots into every part of his body. When Dure realizes what's been done to him, he writes in his journal: "I am of the cruciform." That's where I stopped. It had nothing to do with any religious overtones; at 16, I hadn't really formed any opinions yet about religion. What bothered me so much that I set aside the book was similar to my issue with "Lord Foul's Bane." Father Dure had been violated, but it was almost worse than rape. It was a violation of body and soul.

Last year, I decided to give "Hyperion" another try. I checked out the audio book at the library, reasoning that I might have more luck tackling the novel in a different form. I made it through the priest's tale this time and the soldier's tale (which I enjoyed quite a bit). Then came the poet's tale, and I lost interest. I stopped listening. The book's due date came, I returned it and haven't tried again. But I do have my paperback on the shelf, with its little cartoon Dan Simmons drawing, which I love. Maybe I'll try reading it again this year.

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