Image you’re a Lit Major who has made a number of amazing and critical discoveries about the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Proust. Now image your disappointment at finding there is no real money to be made criticizing Homer, Shakespeare, and Proust. What do you do with all that damned research and all that time wasted reading the Iliad, the Sonnets, and Swann’s Way? Why you write a space opera, of course. Or so it seemed to me while I was wading through Dan Simmons Ilium.
Ilium is a long book that is basically three novels morphed into one. Two of the stories eventually merge, but the third remains independent as this book rolls to an end. As with The Reality Dysfunction, I didn’t know going in that Ilium is part one of three.
Ilium is a confusing bit of business. For one thing I was never sure what time any of the stories is set in. The far future? The distant past? Both at the same time? Neither at the same time? None that I know of as it all takes place in an alternate reality that has nothing to be the reality I am familiar with? The story shifts constantly from ‘Present’ to ‘Past’ to ‘Future’ and they all seem to be taking place at the same time as well. Not content with constant shifts in time, we move around in Space a hell of a lot as well. Jupiter, Mars, Earth, Mount Olympus, Troy, Space Stations, and countless middles of nowheres.
Dan Simmons is still not content with the complexity of his tale-he then adds a cast of thousands to the story-maybe millions, it’s hard to tell at times. The entire cast of the Iliad and The Odyssey, about 300,000 Old School humans, an indeterminate number of Post Humans, ALL the gods of Greek Mythology, hordes of little green men, cybernetic beings, lizard men, and random populations of servant robots and mysterious aliens whose main purpose in life appears to be pulling carts. There are no less than ten Main Characters, though to be honest, only about six of them really amount to much of anything.
There were endless explanations about this and that-most of this didn’t make much sense either. Sci Fi writers love to play god, as do all writers, but they often get a few basic things maddeningly wrong. One such thing happens in Ilium. The humans on Earth are supposed to number 1 million-each one lives a hundred years and then dies. Each woman has one child who never knows it’s father. Assuming half the population is female, the population would half ever hundred years and disappear completely after about 2,000 years. But when we come into the story it’s been 1,400 years and there are still 300,000 people on Earth. Something doesn’t quite add up here. And this is just one tiny bit of nonsense-Ilium is made out of whole cloth on all fronts.
Add to all the dry and boring history enough techno-babble to make the cast of Star Trek throw up it’s arms and walk off stage. Quantum this and black hole that and macro molecular something else. Maybe Sheldon could make sense of this, but I found it all a bit tedious.
Still, I did come to like a few of the characters and there is something fun about the idea of Zeus and company being real people. I really didn’t like the whole lizard man bit, what the hell was that about? Doubtless some bit of literary nonsense I am unfamiliar with.
Ilium asks a million questions and offers few, if any, answers.