by Dan Simmons
Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, of Peleus' son, murderous, man-killer, fated to die, sing of the rage that cost the Achaeans so many good men and sent so many vital, hearty souls down to the dreary House of Death. And while you're at it, O Muse, sing of the rage of the gods themselves, so petulant and so powerful here on their new Olympus, and of the rage of the post-humans, dead and gone though they might be, and of the rage of those few true humans left, self-absorbed and useless though they may have become. While you are singing, O Muse, sing also of the rage of those thoughtful, sentient, serious but not-so-close-to-human beings out there dreaming under the ice of Europa, dying in the sulfur-ash of Io, and being born in the cold folds of Ganymede.
Oh, and sing of me, O Muse, poor born-again-against-his-will Hockenberry - poor dead Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D, Hockenbush to his friends, to friends long since turned to dust on a world long since left behind. Sing of my rage, yes, of my rage, O Muse, small and insignificant though that rage may be when measured against the anger of the immortal gods, or when compared to the wrath of the god-killer, Achilles.
On second thought, O Muse, sing of nothing to me. I know you. I have been bound and servant to you, O Muse, you incomparable bitch. And I do not trust you, O Muse. not one little bit."
Having recently reread the Iliad of Homer this book is a good follow-up both as a change, in genre, and as renewing my knowledge of the Iliad helps in understanding Simmons' novel. For in his novel Homer's relevance is more than an opening prop or gimmick. It is the Iliad that initially provides a bearing, a compass for the reader upon which the rest of the narrative depends, and without which, it could be argued, the rest, at least during the first third or so of the book, would unravel. This is a complicated novel with regard to plot and it is the familiarity of the Iliad storyline that initially binds the work together, serving as a sturdy foundation while the other two strands, at first seeming unrelated, gradually come together.
Part humor, part literary space opera (and perhaps part mind game for intellectuals), Ilium is fascinating in its grand scope as well as the way it re-imagines earlier works to conform to an entirely new epic type. Within it references abound, not only to literature but popular culture, current events, philosophy and recent concepts of physics. It can be difficult to keep one's bearings as the author's vision is so expansive that the scale of events, characters and themes so often touched upon or merely suggested, only to be later viewed from different circumstance or perspective. Much of what occurs throughout the novel is driven by anticipation of how the author will ultimately resolve and integrate all of his various plot lines, cast and speculation. Intriguing hints are laid, sometimes in opposition: Proust's exploration of time, memory and perception or the secret paths to the puzzle of life; the moravec Mahnmut's interpretation of Shakespeare's Sonnets as a dramatic construct; the interaction and influence of will, represented by Zeus, the Fates, and kaos, upon events taking place upon the plains of Ilium; the fulcrum Hockenberry is urged to find in order to change the outcome of Homer; or the identity of "'A bitter heart that bides its time and bites.'" Cosmologies and ontologies, as well as metaphors, are borrowed, their identities and purposes remaining unclear or unexplained, as is so much else by novel's end, though suspicions are delectably stirred. It is a novel that successfully entices the reader to continue the saga in the sequel, Olympos.
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