bookrev: Olympos by Dan Simmons

When people are recommending SciFi/Fantasy books to non-SciFi/Fantasy readers, books such as Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or movie tie-in books are listed. Because of how seamlessly the science fiction is interwoven into the multiple story points, and the inclusion of Shakespeare, Proust and other literary authors and their creations, Dan Simmon’s Ilium and Olympos should also be on that list. My only caution for the new reader is that Simmon’s books are long (the hardcover Olympos is 690 pages), contain complex plots, and do not always answer all of the questions that the prose poses.

The Ilium/Olympos duology examines a world where mankind has given into to the temptation to play Gods, where humans have evolvedphysially into ‘post-humans’ technologically capable of terraforming Mars and transporting the Greek/Troy war and warriors from the past onto that terraformed battlefield.

After reading the extraordinary Ilium, which ended after several hundred pages with more questions left, I was concerned that the sequel Olympos would not live up to the high bar Mr. Simmons set. I found the writing in the second tome just as good, the story lines equally well laid out….my only slight concern is the ending. I’ll try to present my thoughts on that later without spoiling the ending.

Spoilers after the break for the ending of Ilium.

At the end of Ilium, the combined forces of the Greeks, Trojans, the Jupiter and Asteroid belt moravecs (part organic/part AI creatures) were set to attack the gods on Mount Olympos (who weren’t actually gods, but post-humans) on a terraformed Mars beset with problems. On Earth, the humans were dealing with the destruction of the rings, which held their faxing/resuscitation chambers…which a monster called Caliban was using for a food source (i.e., no true resuscitation).

Olympos opens right where we want it to: the battle with the Gods is in full swing, with the moravecs technology balancing out or negating that of the Gods. Several Gods die in battle especially against Achilles, but are resuscitated by their own vats. Zeus is put to sleep and out of the way, which cause new alliances to be formed and more battles.

But the moravecs (including Mahnmut from Europa and Orphet from Io) have detected a very strong quantum energy reading coming from Earth, stronger than the one from the post-human Olympic Gods on Mars that brought them from the asteroids in the first place. They build a ship to travel to Earth, taking the scholic Hockenberry (who caused a large part of the God war in Illium) and a kidnapped Odysseus with them.

In addition, entities from Earth literature (Prospero, Setebos) have been somehow brought to life (more technology, we find out later in the book, allowing thoughts to become reality), and have plans of their own for destruction or preservation.

The remaining humans on Earth face a war with their former robotic protectors, now attacking either due to the destruction of the ressurection vats from the end of Illium or for other reasons. Daeman, Harman, Ada and the rest of humanity, up until now mindless beneficiaries of amazing technology, have to struggle to survivie with their power system down and their former servants hell-bent on destroying them. Their journey of discovering their past, and how humanity got to that point, brings all of the story lines together in a race to save Earth and the last humans from destruction.

In his typical fashion, Simmons again makes an epic story a very well paced read, tying complexities such as quantum reality and brane holes with literary references and ancient history. The read is complex and satifying simultaneously.

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