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Dan Simmons

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book notes: Fires of Eden by Dan Simmons

I honestly thought I had read all of Dan Simmons works, but was proved wrong when I stumbled upon Fires of Eden. Written in 1994 (just before Endymion was released, the third book in the Hyperion cantos, if that helps to place it in a timeline), it is, as many of Mr. Simmons novels are, an interweaving a some historical facts, some myths and lots of imagination. There are two timelines running in parallel:

  • an 1866 timeline involving Samuel Clemens (yes, Mark Twain) and Lorena Stewart (who appears to be based on the travel writer Isabella Bird, based on some of the titles that Simmons attributes to Ms. Stewart, and who wrote a travelogue about the Hawaiian Islands (source));
  • and a modern timeline following one of Ms. Stewarts modern day relatives Eleanor, her new friend Cordie Stumpf, and Byron Trumbo, a bombastic billionaire real-estate mogul who I would say was based on Donald Trump had not Mr. Simmons mentioned Trump as a rival of Trumbo’s.

The main conflict in both timelines is the eruption of the volcanoes on the big island of Hawai’i, caused by the on-going fight between the goddess Pele and her enemies (of which there are many) brought about to some extent by kahuna (Hawaiian shaman) invoking her name to get the haoles (non-Hawaiians) kicked out of Hawai’i.

This myth is discussed in several texts. From Fundamentals of Hawaiian Mysticism:

In one well-known myth, Pele, the volcano goddess, engages in a colossal battle with her would-be lover, Kamapua’a, the hog god, during which she tries to annihilate him with fiery lava and he tries to quench her fires with ocean waves. (pg. 27).

Simmons description of this is much more entertaining, told by Eleanor to Cordie while they are drinking an adult beverage called “Pele’s Fires” at the resort owned by Trumbo. It is interesting and effective author choice that has two haole are explaining Hawaiian mythos while drinking adult beverages. I’ve edited out Cordie’s non-essential rejoinders (sorry, Dan):

Eleanor took a sip of Pele’s Fire, cleared her throat and started again. “Pele is not one of the older gods, but she comes from the best family. Her father was said to be Moe-moea-au-lii, literally “the Chief Who Dreamed of Trouble,” but he disappeared early on and doesn’t figure into any of Pele’s later tales…”
“Typical male,” muttered Cordie, and sipped her drink. “Go on.”
“Yes…well, Pele’s mother was Maumea, sometimes known as Hina or La’ila’i. In her various forms, Haumea is the supreme female spirit, goddess of women’s work and fertility, the mother of all the lesser gods and of all of humankind, and and generally the female counterpart to all the male power in the universe.”
“Right on,” said Cordie, and lifted a clenched fist.

“Pele’s powers were created out of the womb of the Earth Mother the ancient Hawaiians called Papa,” said Eleanor.

“The ancients saw the universe balanced only in the embrace of opposites,” said Eleanor. “Male light penetrating female darkness , begetting a universe of opposites.

“Pele came late to these islands,” continued Eleanor, regaining her storyteller voice. “Her canoe was guided by Ka-moho-ali’i…”
“Hey, that’s the shark king you were talking about earlier,” said Cordie. “The old man of the brat who tried to eat me today. Sorry…I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“You’re right,” said Eleanor. “Ka-moho-ali’i was Pele’s brother. Back in Bora-Bora, where the both came from, he was also known as the king of the dragons. Anyway, he helped lead Pele’s canoe to Hawaii. She landed first at Niihau and then moved on to Kauai. Being the goddess of fire, Pele had a magic digging tool – I think it was called Paoa. She used Paoa to dig fire pits in which she could live, but the sea kept rolling in and quenching her flames. Pele moved down the island chain until she came here to the Big Island, where she eventually found Kilauea to be just right. That’s been her home for thousand’s of years.”

“Anyway, before she settled here, Pele got in a huge battle of Maui with her older sister, Na-maka-o-Kaha’i, the goddess of the sea…”
“Pele and her sister slugged it out until Pele was killed,” said Eleanor.
“Killed?” Cordie looked confused.
“The gods have mortal sides,” said Eleanor. “When Pele lost hers, she became even more powerful as a goddess. And because she died here in Hawaii, her spirit could be free to fly to the volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, where she lives to this day.”
Cordie was frowning. “I thought that Pele could appear as a mortal…”
“She can,” said Eleanor. “It’s just that she’s not mortal anymore.”

“It get’s complicated,” agreed Eleanor. “For instance, Pele is the goddess of fire, but she can’t make fire…that’s a male perogative. But she can control it, and she does on these islands. She has several brothers, also gods, who control thunder, explosions, fountains of lava, the so-called rain of fire…all the noisier and more dramatic but less powerful aspects of fire.” (pg 289-291)

 The Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain historical fact integration follows Clemens’ adventures in Hawaii somewhat. In Clemens autobiography (have you not yet read this? egads!) there is a section entitled “My Debut as a Literary Person” where he talks about chatting with the survivors of the U.S. S. Hornet and being in the “Sandwich Islands” (as Hawai’i was called by some) in the 1860s:

I had been in the Islands several months when the survivors arrived. I was laid up in my room at the time, and unable to walk. Here was a great occasion to serve my journal, and I not able to take advantage of it. Necessarily I was in deep trouble. But by good luck his Excellency Anson Burlingame was there at the time, on his way to take up his post in China where he did such good work for the United States. He came and put me on a stretcher and had me carried to the hospital where the shipwrecked men were, and I never needed to ask a question. He attended to all of that himself, and I had nothing to do but make the notes. It was like him to take that trouble. He was a great man, and a great American; and it was in his fine nature to come down from his high office and do a friendly turn whenever he could. We got through with this work at six in the evening. I took
Twain, Mark; Smith, Harriet E.; Griffin, Benjamin; Fischer, Victor; Frank, Michael B. (2010-11-15). Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1 (p. 128). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Thus the timeline is set for Mr. Simmons’ purposes. Both the past and current timeline participants first try to comprehend the Hawaiian mysticism that they find themselves in, and then they participate in ancient rituals as if they are believers. While this transformation of belief has neither the slow downward spiral of drug-induced belief of Drood (still one of my favorite books) or the reality scariness of The Terror, the book relates well the unrepentant belief of a native peoples in their gods…even a peoples trod on and trampled like the Hawaiians. There is a bit of foreshadowing of Black Hills in this novel, of native americans getting trod on and seeking a type of revenge of their own making.

Overall, yet another enjoyable read…but one that makes me question my memory and forces a review of Dan Simmons’ bibliography!

Dan Simmons And Me

Dan Simmons And Me

Dan Simmons book signing at Murder by the Book

TheFifthHeartSignedDan Simmons’ new book, The Fifth Heart, was released on March 24th. Not coincidently, Murder by the Book hosted a signing and reading by Mr. Simmons on that same day. It’s always good luck to get a book signed by the author on release day…or at least I’m starting a new tradition that says it is so.

Book signings are hit and miss as far as entertainment value. Sometimes you can tell when the authors have been on the road for a while. This was not the case with Mr. Simmons, who seemed genuinely excited to share his book and other thoughts with the 40 or so people gathered. And it was the first day of the tour; he was flying to Phoenix later that evening.

The only other book signings I’ve been to on release day were for my own books or JoSara MeDia books. Those are always exciting because…well…there’s beer…and my mom makes cookies.

If you haven’t been to Houston’s Murder by the Book, I highly recommend it. We don’t get to the store as often as we like, as it is a hike from Tomball. But the people there are knowledgeable and patient, and they are voracious readers as well, with good recommendations.

Dan mentioned that the book he is currently working on (tentatively titled Omega Canyon – see below) would be his thirtieth book. It’s a great thing to see an author as enthusiastic as Dan doing a book signing for his 29th book.

I haven’t read all 29 of Dan’s current books, but I’ve read the majority. Murder by the Books signing policy says that in addition to the current book you can bring three other books to sign (you can bring more, but you have to wait until everyone goes through the line once to get the rest signed). My Hyperion books were in bad shape, as was Illium. I couldn’t find Olympos, and the rest were paperbacks. So I took Drood, The Terror and The Abominable (which I reviewed for SFSignal) to be signed.

If you haven’t heard about The Fifth Heart, it is another typical can’t-place-it-in-a-genre book, typical of Simmons. But, also typical of Simmons, it is incredibly well researched (see question below), and so well paced that I read a hundred pages without realizing it. This is what it is about from the book jacket:

In 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Henry James come to America together to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of the esteemed historian Henry Adams – a member of the Adams family that has given the United States two presidents. Clover’s suicide appears to be more than it at first seemed; the suspected foul play may involve matters of national importance.

Holmes is currently on his Great Hiatus – his three-year absence after his performance at Reichenbach Falls, during which time the people of London believe him to be dead. Holmes has faked his own death because the great detective has used his incomparable powers of ratiocination to come to the conclusion that he is a fictional character.

This leads to serious complications for James – for if his esteemed fellow investigator is merely a work of fiction, what does that make him? And what can the master storyteller do to fight against the sinister power possibly named Moriarty that may or may not be controlling them from the shadows?

One of the many reasons I enjoyed Drood was the constant “is this real?” nature of it. This premise appears to be more of the same…in a good way.

Dan’s reading

Reading a passage covering a conversation during a dinner party can be boring. Dan Simmons reading about a dinner party with Sherlock Holmes, Henry James, Teddy Roosevelt and others was quite entertaining. The gent who introduced Dan said he most likely wouldn’t be doing this long of a reading at anywhere else along the book tour. Dan said that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Dan Simmons reading

The questions

After the reading, Dan asked for questions.

Do you like writing or researching better? The two are very intertwined, Dan said, and mentioned several examples, including a scene from Black Hills.  In the scene, he needed to know if the Ferris Wheel at the Chicago World’s Fair went clockwise or counter-clockwise, so he could accurately describe the view. He found examples of descriptions implying both directions which seems false…until his research found that Ferris made it to where that wheel could go in both directions (this fact is used in the scene in the book). He also mentioned the quote from Robert Frost: ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.’

What was the best and worst criticism ever received? Dan talked about the political blowback on Flashback (discussed here and many other places) as an example of poor criticism. He also mention readers enjoyment and support of Wilkie Collins, the addict and narrator of Drood…who Dan described as the lying-est narrator he has ever written.

Will you write another Hyperion book? The answer was a very short “No”…which I’ve read he has stated several times.

His next book

To answer the “what are you working on next” question, Dan went through a fairly detailed description of the plot of his next book, Omega Canyon. Set mostly at Los Alamos, it follows an Austrian Jew who is working on the atomic bomb. But he finds that his wife and daughter, whom he thought killed by the Nazis, are alive, but will be killed if he does not spy on the Manhattan Project for the Germans. He and Richard Feynman (who, as a Physics major, I’ve enjoyed reading a lot about) try to build a failure so technically correct that the Nazi scientist will buy it, while some commando (I didn’t catch were he came from) searches for the Austrians family. Sounds great! I’m ready to read it…finish up the signing tour and get back to writing!

Conversations during signing

Dan Simmons SigningI enjoy authors who talk to their readers, and I really enjoyed Mr. Simmons. He was talking to the gent in line in front of me, while doodling on the signature page of his book….all the while mentioning his older brother, a cartoonist who had passed away the previous year.

While he was signing my copy of The Abominable, I mentioned to him that I had reviewed that book for SFSignal. He asked if it was a favorable review, and when I said it was, he said “Well, as long as it was well written. Because it’s more important that the review is well written than the book right?”  I laughed along with the folks in line behind me.

Then I asked how his WindWalker cabin was coming along, prompting a sigh…I didn’t venture to ask if there were construction problems. I asked if it were close to Pikes Peak, as I’ve signed up to run the Pikes Peak Ascent (a half marathon up the mountain) in August. He looked at me like I was crazy (I’m used to that) then invited me to train by running supplies up to his WindWalker cabin.

And then a photo op. All in all, one of the more enjoyable and informative signings I’ve attended.

Dan Simmons And Me


The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Only a small number of Seor Zafon’s books have be translated into English, including this latest one. The translator, Lucia Graves, must be given due credit for making Zafon’s writing as enjoyable in English as I am certain they are in their native Spanish; I am attempting to read his other books in their native Spanish, slogging through with my dictionary at my side.

It is apparent that Zafon is not only an excellent writer, but enjoys the process of writing, and of reading. He once again includes the fascinating setting that is The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where all books have a home, a biblioholics dream come true; Sempere and Sons bookstore, where the proprietor puts his love of books and finding them a home above business and revenue, plays a key role (Daniel Sempere is, of course, the main character of The Shadow of the Wind; and, from the very first paragraph, the love and pain of authorship is at the forefront: (more…)

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