Dan Simmons, Ilium. London: Gollancz, 2003.
Readers familiar with Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos will no doubt have been waiting with baited breath for his return to epic SF and his sizable new novel Ilium is certainly epic in both size and scope. The novel contains three very different narrative threads, which slowly intersect in provocative, if not necessarily revealing, ways. The first tale, as the title suggests, is based on The Iliad; we meet what appear to be the Ancient Greek Gods who are (subtlety) directing the action of the Trojan War, complete with a full cast including Helen, Paris, Achilles, Agamemnon and ill-fated Odysseus. For some reason the Gods have also 'resurrected' scholars from Earth who are experts on Homer's epic poem; these 'scholics' are charged with watching the Trojan War and ensuring that events are unfolding as narrated in The Iliad. The protagonist in this thread is Thomas Hockenberry, Ph.D. At first glance, Hockenberry seems to be living the classical scholar's ultimate fantasy of actually seeing the real Trojan War unfold. However, we quickly discover that his masters, the Ancient Gods, are every bit as childish, selfish and manipulative as suggested in ancient mythology. Hockenberry is the bound and bitter servant of a Muse, and after a parody of the opening of The Iliad, Hockenberry laments: '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' (1).
In complete contrast, the second narrative thread introduces Moravecs, organic-machine hybrids who were 'seeded' across the solar system by human beings hundreds of years earlier. The central Moravec is Mahnmut, who spends his time piloting the submersible The Dark Lady through the waters of the Jovian moon Europa, and obsessively analysing Shakespeare's sonnets. When other Moravecs discover massive and very dangerous amounts of quantum shift energy emanating from Mars they decide they must investigate. Mahnmut joins Orphu of Io (who prefers Proust and argues literature with Mahnmut at the drop of a hat) and two others in order to investigate and possibly eliminate the cause of the extremely hazardous quantum energies.