Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Heroic Retelling



“Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done . . . ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world . . . Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak in time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, and not to yield.”  ― Dan Simmons, Ilium

Having fairly 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 story line 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 reinterprets 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 plotlines, 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 chaos, 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. 

This is a novel that provides a wealth of ideas and action which successfully entice the reader to continue the saga in the sequel, Olympos.


mudpuddle said...

i'm not sure i follow... does this take place in 400 bc? and surely he mentions Tennyson in connection with the header?

Brian Joseph said...

This sounds wild. I tend to like novels full of ideas and concepts. I should give this a try. I would probably also reread the Iliad before I did so.

James said...

This is a work of speculative fiction set in an imagined world of 1200 BC. And, yes the author had an acknowledgement page that included Tennyson and several other poets whose work was incorporated into his fiction.

James said...

This is certainly full of imagination and ideas. It was nominated for the Hugo award and was followed by a sequel called Olympus.