BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the distant future, mankind has evolved into a post-human state, leaving only a small remnant of normal humans behind on Earth. Sentient bio-machines have been seeded throughout the outer solar system and have removed themselves from all human affairs. On Mars, the Greek Gods are resurrecting Greek scholars to help them study the Trojan War and to see how strongly that war hews to Homer’s Iliad. Ilium begins the story on how these three strands intersect, and what the ultimate fate of humanity will be.
PROS: Filled with Simmons’ usual cool ideas and humor. When things get going, its a rocket ride to the end.
CONS: Very slow start. Disparate story threads makes it difficult to keep track of what is going on.
BOTTOM LINE: Certainly recommend for fans of Dan Simmons. If you can get past the initial setup of the pieces, the book zooms to the end.
MY REVIEW: I really enjoy Dan Simmons as an author, especially his Hyperion series of books. Ilium shares some themes with Hyperion but it doesn’t quite measure up. However, its still quite a read in its own right.
Ilium contains three separate story narratives, each one seemingly independent. In the first, Thomas Hockenberry, 20th Century scholar of Greek literature, is resurrected by the Greek Gods on Mars. His, and other resurrected scholars’, job is to witness the Trojan War and report on how closely the actual war follows the events set out in Homer’s Iliad. The second thread is the story of sentient machines, seeded around Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the asteroid belt. These machines have been content to divorce themselves from the affairs of humanity. However, unusually high quantum activity around Mars, and Mars’ exceptionally fast terraforming, constitutes a threat to their existence. They send a mission of four Moravec (sentient machines) to Mars, to deliver a Device to Mt. Olympos which will help end the threat. Lastly, on Earth, the last vestiges of normal humanity live an Eloi-like existence. Their every whim is taken care of through technology they don’t understand, and don’t want to. One man, Harman, upon reaching his 99th year (100 is the limit set on human lifespans), decides he wants to find out where the post-humans went when they left Earth and moved into their orbital habitats. With the help of an ancient human female, Savi, he and his companions set out for the drained Mediterranean Basin, in hopes of finding a way up to the orbital cities.
As you would expect with three separate story lines, Ilium starts out slow. And Simmons’ reliance on rehashing scene after scene of the Iliad doesn’t help either. I didn’t find it that exciting in college, I don’t now. It almost felt like I was trying to read an Umberto Eco novel. The bad news is that the story plods along, with the pieces being put into place, for the first 200+ pages. At that point, the pace begins to pick up. Bits of the backstory are explored and the Moravecs reach Mars. The last third of the book moves at an almost breakneck pace, with Harman and Co. learning more about the pos-humans, the Trojan War going horribly wrong for the Greek Gods, and the Moravecs reaching Olympos. All this leads to a giant cliffhanger, with war between the humans and Gods breaking out. Then end of book. Gah.
Even with the slow start, Ilium is definitely worth a read for SF fans. Simmons touches on a lot of the same themes as his Hyperion stories, but without as much religious overtones. He deals a lot with real vs. artificial life, dataspheres, and AI in this book. He also has a ton of cool ideas involving wormholes, quantum mechanics and alien races. All cool stuff. Marred by the slow start and cliffhanger ending. Redeemed, mostly, by the engaging and swift moving last half of the book. I can’t wait for the next book to find out what happens!