Review

Ilium

by Dan Simmons



Long before I had any formal idea of what literary "classics" were
and how they came to be so revered, an imaginative public school
teacher told (not read, but told --- from memory) the story
of Odysseus, a kingly hero of Greek mythology who took years to get
home after the Trojan War. But once back in Ithaca, what riveting
tales he had to tell! Episode by episode, our Grade Five class
spent weeks traveling alongside Homer's epic character, and despite
the length of the voyage (parcelled out just a few minutes at a
time between regular subjects), we were almost sorry to see it
end.

Oddly enough, all these years later, I've experienced Dan Simmons's
ILIUM (drawn from the same subject matter) in a very similar way.
It's a tremendous tale of astonishing breadth and complexity that
held its shape and rhythm, despite my months-long journey through
nearly 600 pages, stolen a few at a time from the wee small hours
when I could read only for myself. And yes, my old friend Odysseus
made an appearance, along with scores of others from the vast
family of gods, goddesses and superhumans of classical mythology.
But the bold difference is in how Simmons took me and these
once-familiar beings on a strange, surreal dance through time,
space and interplanetary dimensions that even Homer could scarcely
have imagined.

With the daring that only a skilled classicist could pull off,
Simmons managed to transplant his larger-than-life protagonists of
the ancient Trojan War into a timeframe so fluid that it becomes
simultaneously the distant past and far future, for those of us
brought up on linear thinking. Along the way, ILIUM weaves in two
additional and distinct storylines --- one about a slowly
extinguishing race of "post-humans," another about an unlikely but
charming pair of alien artificial life-forms literally shipwrecked
in space. But why would Simmons spend chapter after chapter
visiting each of these story-strands in turn and enticing us to
identify separately with their characters?

Like all stories worth reading and all journeys worth the travel,
the connections braiding the strands of ILIUM together are built
slowly and often subtly, even when the rest of the universe seems
to be dissolving around them in temporal chaos. Adventures are
lived, lives lost (both human and divine), great battles fought and
profound relationships are forged, all setting the stage for an
ending of promised epic proportions in Simmons's forthcoming
sequel, OLYMPOS. Like the fabled travels of Odysseus, getting back
home again can be a long and arduous journey, but this is one in
which Dan Simmons, sci-fi artist extraordinaire, is sailing under
the full power of creative momentum. As long as it took me to
navigate ILIUM, I can't wait to embark on OLYMPOS for another
memorable voyage beyond time itself.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch (paulinefinch@rogers.com) on January 22, 2011

Ilium
by Dan Simmons

  • Publication Date: June 28, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0380817926
  • ISBN-13: 9780380817924