Monday, February 22, 2010

Illium by Dan Simmons

Hector. Paris. Achilles the Man-slayer. Helen. Menelaus. Agamemnon. These are the names from the epic The Illiad by the blind-poet Homer. Some would say it is a complete flight of fancy, while others feel there is a kernel of truth wrapped in centuries of elaboration and divine motivations to explain inexplicable events. What if, however, it is an exact retelling of the Trojan Wars, and the Gods indeed walked among mortals?

This is one of the themes of Simmon's book Illium. But rather what if the Gods were not divine beings sprung from Zeus and his inveterate coupling with anything that moves, but rather powerful and technologically advanced "post-humans?" With the ability to displace both time and space, the Gods have been observing, intervening, and guiding the war in a way that Homer relates. Observing on behalf of the Gods are the Scholics, men plucked from their own time, experts each on the Illiad. Of these, Hockenberry -- a contemporary of ours -- observes the action with growing disinterest...that is until he is given the Helmet of Hades and a QT medallion by Aphrodite with the purpose of killing Athena.

The advanced technology of quantum teleportation used by the Gods does not go unnoticed. The Moravecs, advanced bio-electro-mechanical entities seeded in the far reaches of the Jovian moon-system, have observed the massive use of quantum technology, which threatens the long-term existence of the solar system. An expidition involving the deep-sea moravec Mahnmut and the Hardvac moravec Ophu is dispatched to investigate and perhaps put an end to this "quantum polluton"

Finally, on Earth, now inhabited by perhaps a few hundred-thousand "old-style" humans, Harman, Daemon, and a few others meet Savi, the "last" Jew, as they attempt to unravel the mystery of the "Post-humans."

Overall, Simmons creates a well-crafted story that rolls along, and tempts the reader with ever increasing layers to the puzzle. The nature of the Trojan Wars unravels slowly, while the "old-style" humans are propelled into a world far more complex than their previous "eloi-like" existence suggests.

It's very hard to find any faults with the story, well crafted as it is, and indeed has inspired me to want a Achaian Greek wargames army.

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