This isn’t exactly a review of a twenty-year-old book, the Hugo award-winning Hyperion by Dan Simmons (which I just finished last night). Instead, I’d like to talk about how Hyperion works as an anthology and why I think anthology stories are just so great. I do think Hyperion is a fantastic work set in a fantastic universe and if you like any sort of science fiction story, I urge you to check it out. I’ve read a few other Simmons stories — The Terror, Black Hills and Drood — and while all of them are really good (especially The Terror), I think Hyperion is so far my favorite. There are also apparently three other books in the series that I have yet to read, so I’m aware that I’m only getting a fourth of the saga. I don’t care that much. Even without the other books, Hyperion still work as an excellent Anthology Tale.
Anthology Tales seem pretty simple — at first glance. And a lot of medieval literature — The Deacameron, The Canterbury Tales — count as anthology stories, showing that it’s a form with a rich history. There’s a frame tale of some kind, which puts a bunch of characters together, and has them tell each other stories. Sometimes, the frame tale itself gets fleshed out by the stories and then builds to a climax. The weaving of all these various stories creates an extremely sophisticated narrative. It’s not just one story — but several stories that have to stand-alone and inform the overall frame story as well. I’ve written a few frame stories and they’re a lot harder than they look.
In modern times, we don’t really see too many Anthology Tales in literature (I’m sure I’m wrong about this and I’m forgetting a lot. You can remind me in the comments, if you’d like) — but we do see them in the field of horror movies. The Tales from the Crypt (in the tradition of EC horror comics), Dead of Night and a lot of Amicus Productions films are older examples. Tales from the Hood is more recent and V/H/S and its sequel count as well (along with being Found Footage). I’m not sure why Anthology Tales lend themselves so well to horror stories. Maybe the tales are easy for the Horror Hosts to comment on (and fill their commentary with cheesy puns) or maybe the ‘short story’ format of an anthology lends itself well to scary stories.
Well, Hyperion is a Sci-Fi Anthology Tale and its form allows Simmons to put all the great sub-genres of Sci-Fi to work in separate tales. There’s some Sci-Fi Horror, a whacky picaresque, military sci-fi, a cyberpunk Noir thriller, a political/environmental sci-fi and more. Furthermore, Simmons does a great job of setting the tales against each other. So, the harrowing military sci-fi story is clashed with the hilarious picaresque, which is then followed by a darkly tragic story — and so on. It makes each story contrast with the other, so when one ends, you’re eager to begin the next.
I do think the Anthology Take form has its limits — but it has its benefits too. Hyperion definitely proves that it’s something which can enliven any genre and create some truly intelligent and entertaining works.