‘A MOMENTARY STAY AGAINST CONFUSION’: AN INTERVIEW WITH DAN SIMMONS
by Philip Purser-Hallard
This interview with the science fiction author Dan Simmons forms Appendix B to the thesis The Relationship between Creator and Creature in Science Fiction by Philip Purser-Hallard. It is published here for the first time.
The interview was carried out by email, between 27 November and 1 December 1998. Many of the threads of question and answer ran parallel to one another: this text attempts to collate them into a coherent conversation.
PPH: You have said that your earliest plans for Hyperion did not include the Keats character or references [Simmons, ‘Dan Simmons on his Book, Hyperion, and on John Keats’]. To my mind these are central in the finished product. How early in the writing process did the realisation come that you ought to include Keats, and how much rewriting did you need to carry out as a result?
DS: I didn't know that [...] clip of me existed, but when I said ‘earliest’ thoughts of Hyperion, I mean that quite literally. I found myself drawn to the title. I make the joke that it's a perfect sf title because of the ‘hyper’ as in ‘hyperdrive’, and the ‘ion’ as in ‘ion drive engine’ – both familiar sf vocabulary and tropes1. But as soon as I thought of writing something under that title, I knew that I would have to reacquaint myself with Keats's work and life. In the first glimmerings of the series, I realised that I wanted to work with some of the themes of Keats's poems. (No rewriting necessary [...] I don't like a long process of successive approximation, of chiselling away at the stone – I prefer to think about it, on the word level, as long as it takes to get it right, or damned near right, the first time it goes onto paper or the computer screen.)
PPH: Do you feel that the concepts best covered in the past by the poetry of religious myth (in the widest possible sense) are now best addressed by science fiction?
DS: No, I don't believe that current sf best addresses the themes and concepts once pursued in the poetry of religious myth. Sf writers and readers like to point out that only this genre insists on dealing with the really big issues – what is the destiny of the human race, what is the meaning of being human, etc, etc – but the genre itself grew out of pulp entertainment fiction – and before that, out of the Robert Louis Stevenson brand of exciting, ‘childlike’ fiction – and because of that, carries little of the serious freight that any era or brand of serious poetry must confront.
PPH: But the Hyperion sequence deals with just those issues – the nature of God, of evil, of humanity and of poetic inspiration, the supremacy of love and the pain of betrayal, the destiny of the human race and the necessity of free will – that are central to Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy2. If these issues would be better addressed by poetry, why deal with them a science fiction novel?
DS: ‘Dear Mr Hemingway – If your parable about a guy catching a big fish and then losing it is essentially a poetic, philosophical journey, why didn't you write it as a poem?’ Because I'm a novelist! In this case, I'm a novelist working in ‘popular’ genres such as horror and sf.
I don't mean that I can't deal with profound issues in sf – most of us sciffy writers try to at one point or another – but poetry is still the lightning to our carefully laid and steady-current cables and bulbs of prose. If I could be a poet of Keats's genius, I would be in a minute.
And mentioning The Divine Comedy – my novel The Hollow Man was structured very tightly on Dante's schematic as read through TS Eliot's verse – it was a difficult, heavy, and constraining effort compounded by my determination to follow that pattern while riding roughshod over genre boundaries [...] It was the least successful of my books and by far the hardest to write [...]
But Dante's original work gave shape and substance to erstwhile amorphous regions of the general human psyche – it illuminated the temporal universe for generations of intelligent people. Great poetry can do that. Lightning flashes in the night. Some great novels can. But they are all time bound. And working the same big issues in genre form doesn't mean that the genre can carry the same freight as a poetic masterpiece.
PPH: Compared with the number of references to other writers such as Milton or (obviously) Keats, the Hyperion Cantos hardly ever allude to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein – one of the definitive texts for themes of creation in science fiction, and indeed in Romanticism. Is there any particular reason for this?
DS: Quite a few critics and even sf writers say that science fiction began with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but I don't happen to agree. Nor is there a consistent thread from her themes or attitudes that has carried over to real sf. ‘Sci-Fi’ on the other hand – in bad books, movies, TV – rarely rises above the Mary Shelley approach. How many 1950's horror/sci-fi movies end with the ‘revelation’ that ‘There are certain things Man was not meant to know’ or ‘This tragedy is the price for meddling with God's (or the gods') prerogatives’? This isn't sf, it's sci-fi. Frankenstein is a cautionary tale, but ultimately anti-logic, anti-technology – or at least pre-scientific and pre-technological in its thinking. It's Faust. In sci-fi movies and tales (as opposed to sf), there isn't a robot or android built who won't turn into a mankiller. Asimov reminded us with his Three Laws of Robotics that engineers aren't idiots or villains who've made a pact with the Devil. They're engineers – people trained to a fault in thinking logically and building in multiple safeguards in their designs. By Mary Shelley's logic, an outboard motor is a dangerous thing on a boat because it could – at any time – leap into the boat and chew up all the passengers. But engineering design doesn't work that way. When engineers build even the simplest device, one of the first things they do is idiot-proof it.
The Romantics dealt with the most dangerous aspects of Creator/Creation because they still worked in an essentially pre-scientific gestalt: mythical, Miltonian, Biblical, and purely poetic. But the cautionary tale in Frankenstein has been worked to death by people – bad writers, movie makers, TV writers – who have no grounding in logic, sf, or basic science. I prefer the chaotic overabundance of enthusiasm in Keats – who was obsessed with Creation.
PPH: Where would you be inclined to place the genesis of sf?
DS: I don't believe there was any single seminal work from which we can trace sf's DNA patterns – probably the first fantasy tale told around a campfire by the wimp who was fed because he could tell good stories and amuse the clan. But since sf is a highly rational genre, despite its fantastic underpinnings, why not start with Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac? He tried rocket travel to the Moon in the 17th century. Or Swift for his cautionary social sf? Or, for that matter, Sir Thomas More with his Utopia? Personally, I'd like to trace our heritage to Homer.
PPH: It seems odd to consider the borderline fantasy of Swift (or even Homer) as proto-sf, while dismissing Mary Shelley as insufficiently rational. Is the point that she is actively anti-rational? And is Dante himself – with his cosmic journeying, his detailed descriptions of phenomena such as centres of gravity and eclipses, his narrator's constant inquiry into the nature of things – not just as much part of this tradition?
DS: I surrender on this point. My point was simply that tracing sf's heritage back to Frankenstein is overemphasised – much of the Romantic movement was a deliberate rejection of the rationalism hard-earned during the Enlightenment philosopher period. Swift's fantasies, Dante's cosmologies, and even Homer's epics were rigidly rational within the systems they created.
Dante may be the ultimate sf predecessor because he left absolutely no corner of the universe unexplored or unexplained. The difference is, of course, that sf – which is primarily a 20th century phenomenon – must abide (as much as its Homeric imperative allows it to) by the scientific and rational understanding of the universe handed down by fruits of the scientific method (no matter how bitter or limiting those fruits may be.) Dante was free to use the religious context of his day to create a universal schematic as detailed as the actual architectural plans for a great Gothic cathedral. By so doing, he literally centred his era's sense of time, place, and purpose in the universe. There is nothing so profound in the unfolding of the scientific method of inquiry to allow a poet (or sf writer) to so effect the culture and the psyche of educated humanity – indeed, the further one goes, the more one has to deal with (Heisenbergish) uncertainty, mere probability, and the inevitability of not understanding something. Combined with the ubiquity of chaos, it doesn't lend itself to planning a very comforting cathedral.
PPH: How would you reconcile your distaste for the robot-turns-on-its-creator theme with the fact that your TechnoCore does rebel against, and intends to destroy, its creators?
DS: This is important. Remember that in the phrase ‘the AI TechnoCore’ in the Hyperion books, it was revealed that ‘AI’ stood not for ‘Artificial Intelligences’ but for ‘Autonomous Intelligences’. Deeper reading shows that all 20th and 21st Century efforts to create ‘artificial intelligence’ failed. (In 2001: a Space Odyssey, released in book and movie form in 1968, we were to have HAL 9000 by 1999. An AI-expert friend of mine likes to say ‘We're precisely no closer to that goal today than we were in 1966.’)
The TechnoCore wasn't some Frankenstein artificial intelligence that broke its shackles... it was (as are we) the result of evolution... of actual ‘artificial life’ – bits of replicating, eating, killing computer code... that already exists and which ‘got loose’ in the primordial soup of that earliest of planetary dataspheres, the World Wide Web. We have created [artificial] life. It has escaped our control. It is evolving in ways we can't imagine or predict.
In that sense, perhaps all creations ‘turn on’ their creators. Nothing is a real creation unless it has the autonomy and ability to do things undreamed of by its designers... in the case of the TechnoCore, it had no choice but to become parasitic on the human race (Bodies! Intelligence, it seems, needs bodies with which to interact with the physical universe! It's why AI programs are all idiots in a box) and the human race – and its societies – eventually entered into a co-evolutionary spiral with the AI's, resulting in the Faustian bargain of the Pax.
PPH: Is there any reason why Keats's ‘Hyperion’ fragments, and not, say, Percy Shelley's Prometheus Unbound formed your central literary model?
DS: Why would I turn to such a well-mined vein when Keats was so ignored and ultimately richer and more malleable? Truth be told, I don't like [Percy] Shelley's work that much (I won't even mention what he did to Keats's reputation), and I wanted the human, erotic, ‘Pleasure Thermometer,’ mortal-in-love-with-a-goddess elements of Keats's ‘Endymion’ to ground the last two books in a love story. Keats was every bit as much a sensualist as [Percy] but, I think, an infinitely more disciplined poet of sensuousness.
PPH: The Cantos quote, namecheck or otherwise allude to a large number of earlier sf writers, including Mary Shelley, HG Wells, CS Lewis, James Blish, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson. Which sf writers, if any, would you say influenced your own sf most profoundly?
DS: Jack Vance is the sf writer who most influenced the Hyperion novels. I've just finished writing a long tribute to Vance for the British Library Association series in which I explain my debt to his brand of ‘openness, light, width, breadth, sensory richness’ in sf – whether space opera or the more Vancian type tale. I admire many sf writers for different reasons – Blish for his humanity, Gibson for his language and daring, Asimov for his grand scale of thought (but I dislike his clunky, claustrophobic stage settings) – but it is the near-poetry of Jack Vance which inspires the tone of the Hyperion books. In Vance, future human cultures are rich, complex, frequently absurd, commonly self-contradictory, sometimes self-defeating, and almost always inscrutable to the casual observer. In other words, much like actual cultures on earth today. His aliens are... alien. Truly not understandable. Usually they want nothing to do with humans and if they are forced to interact, it is in ways not to the humans' liking and usually to the detriment of both species. We live on a world today where we have co-existed with such fascinating species as dolphins, whales, gorillas, etc for more than millennia, but we've only begun to recognise their right to exist, much less translate the whale songs or decode the dolphin squeals or chart the complex gorilla social structure. Vance would, I hope, appreciate the alienness of the Shrike – the thing's refusal to act in ways that make sense to any of the human protagonists. If not, this writer still loves that more sophisticated element in Vancian fiction, as well as the celebration that underwrites his work.
I wanted the Hyperion/Endymion sagas to have not only that Jack Vance openness in a cyberpunk era of sf that was clever but dark, interior, rainy, adolescent, claustrophobic – Blade Runnerish with brains, one might say – but also to have the feeling which the first cover of the American edition of Hyperion (by the artist Gary Ruddell) conveyed so well – great distances, a Sea of Grass, a windwagon in the distance, strange but believable plants and trees, a hint of city many miles away, possibly the ruins of an ancient city, a beautiful sunset... Many writers have criticised Ruddell's illustration of the Shrike (too clunky, two arms are missing) – but this is trivial. The feeling was perfect in that first American cover illustration – this spiked, thorny, humanoid but definitely not human thing in the foreground, back turned, waiting for the riders in that distant windwagon to cross the great spaces in their pilgrimage toward him.
What I said about Jack Vance's fiction may apply somewhat to my own sf: it's not the great, grand plots that I love most, but the richness of language found in such nearly forgotten sources as the great travel writers of the 19th century (Isabella Bird, etc... or Patrick Leigh Fermor in this century.) When asked to diagram a Jack Vance plot (or the growth of the Hyperion tale) I would, at the risk of boring the reader, quote at length from Robert Frost's famous introductory essay ‘The Figure a Poem Makes’:
It should be the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion... It finds its own name as it goes and discovers the best waiting for it in some final phrase at once wise and sad – the happy-sad blending of the drinking song.
This is my message for those critics who find errors and flaws in the Hyperion tales [...] and to those who over-analyse the thematic structure, philosophical banter, and Keatsian debt. The novels began in delight (in the creation of new worlds and words, places and smells and sights), inclined to the impulse and mood set down in the first lines, and ended – despite the presence of a messiah, cults, human evolution, etc – in nothing more than a momentary stay against confusion for the human characters involved. The finale which critics and more than a few email-writing fans have called tragic or bitter-sweet, actually is, I hope, little more than the happy-sad ending of a drinking song.
Frost goes on to say about a poem – ‘Its most precious quality will remain having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance. In can never lose its sense of meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went’.
I won't be presumptuous and apply this to my sf quartet of novels, but it's true that there was something ecstatic in the way the tale carried me away with it – and all I can hope is that some readers shared that sense of being transported elsewhere. But Frost's (all too familiar) description here does, I think, apply to the best of John Keats's work – as a true, despairing, negative-capability-cursed, painfully empathic Creator – in way that it does not to Mary or Percy Shelley's work, or to the vast bulk of almost-not-quite-there poetry.
Frost said ‘Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting’ and that surely is the best engineering schematic I could describe for the process of writing my Hyperion/Endymion novels.
PPH: In your reading of sf, have you encountered such early twentieth century British writers as Olaf Stapledon, David Lindsay or CS Lewis? If so, what opinion do you have of their work?
DS: Of these three, I've read only Stapledon and Lewis. And many years ago. I've always thought of Stapledon as being the anchor on the extreme cosmic scale of speculative fiction, but lacking any heart. Or at least lacking any feelings to which I could resonate other than pure ratiocination. Lewis is the better writer, I thought, but I find all of his fiction fatally marred (for me) because of the Christian agenda peeping through the curtains at all times. Any fiction that has a necessary adjective before it – Marxist fiction, feminist fiction, whatever – I respond to as second-class fiction. The one wonderful thing I remember from all of the Out Of The Silent Planet series was Lewis' realisation that it would be sunny as hell in interplanetary space. Most contemporary sf dwelt with the ‘darkness of outer space’ and of seeing billions of stars. At least Lewis – in his Christian apologetic fantasy fiction – realised that the sunlight pouring in the spacecraft's windows would be quite bright, thank you.
PPH: You use a number of genuine scientific sources – Norbert Wiener, for instance – in your discussion of humanity's relationship with Artificial Intelligences. To what extent is your treatment of this topic an allegory of humanity's relationship with its own (hypothetical) creator, and to what extent do you feel the philosophy and ethics of Artificial Intelligence are issues which ought to be addressed in the real world?
DS: My treatment of the human-AI co-evolution in the Hyperion books isn't an allegory of humankind's relationship to its current AIs... mainly because we ain't got any! [...] I'm fascinated with (and read widely about) the philosophy and ethics of dealing with other intelligent entities... whether they are theoretical HAL 9000-type programs, or whales, or [alien] contact via radio telescope.
The best discussion of our relationship to our autonomous creations – present and future – is to be found in the book I acknowledged at the beginning of The Rise of Endymion – Kevin Kelly's Out Of Control and other related writings. I'm convinced that his belief about the evolution of autonomous artificial life and intelligence is the most likely – that it will come from the networking of tens of thousands and millions then billions of small, independently tasked micromachines, some literally nanotech microscopic, all of which have separate jobs but also the ability to interact with other micromachines. He uses the example of tiny, almost invisible ‘dust eaters’ programmed just to consume the dust on the screen of one's electronic and TV screens, but how a houseful of tens of thousands of these tiny AIs [...] communicating with one another and the world outside, has a synergistic movement toward autonomy. They soon become – literally – beyond anyone's control.
The Y2K millennial bug is a primitive example of this trend. The real problem lies not in the huge mainframe computers, but in the millions – yes, millions – of tiny, single-minded, embedded microchips in power relays, water systems, etc.
The basic ethical consideration over the next fifty years will be, I believe: Do we encourage the creation of such Out of Control networks of billions of happily simple-minded embedded thinking devices, or do we somehow attempt to control them? This is not the Frankenstein phenomenon – this is simple evolution and every indication is that it works for self-generating program code, interacting mini-AIs, and the complicated networks which result from ‘unplanned, non-engineered’ interaction between such elaborate networks. The Internet is the first such autonomous, self-replicating, not-understandable entity, but it is the equivalent of a virus... not even a bacterium... on its own evolutionary scale.
In the end then, I believe that ultimately the only ethical decision that a Creator has in relationship to his or her creations is: When do I free them and agree to relinquish control forever?
I would wager everything I own that in 25 years all such illusion of ‘control’ has already been abandoned as tens or hundreds of billions of autonomous AIs – from house thermostats chatting with the embedded chips in one's auto to preheat the catalytic converter; to embedded chips in every device, including clothing and food; to nanotech devices in our bodies chatting away incessantly with MedCentral (much as pacemakers now depend upon paging systems and satellite communications and automated insulin-injectors [...]) – are controlled not only by pre-programmed chips but by ‘fuzzy logic’ programs which can sense and adapt to the human's biorhythms, blood-sugar levels, amount of sleep, etc. In a very few years indeed, all of this will be out of control. Is this Shelley's Frankenstein myth? No. It is, however, a perfect paradigm for network evolution in nature... and whoever said that the evolution of (at first) silicon AIs and artificial life forms isn't part of nature? It's an inevitable step in general evolution if all sentient species who dabble in technology create independent thinking machines and turn them loose in their environment in a way that they can network into autonomous life forms.
PPH: How essential is the science in science fiction?
DS: Obviously, strict adherence to science is not essential to sf... indeed, the ‘harder’ the sf is, the sooner it is made obsolete by changing scientific paradigms and raw data. Most sf is filled with non-scientific nonsense – faster than light drive, time travel, teleportation. But [...] sf has evolved both in the shadow of the scientific method and as a speculative extension of rationalism – Enlightenment trust in some sort of reason – rather than from Mary Shelley's automatic writing or the laudanum dreams of Romantic poets. That is, most good sf is highly realistic – at least in the sense that it is consistent within the social, scientific, and technological universe it inhabits.
For instance – [Percy] Shelley or Keats could have imagined faerie palaces a thousand feet high, but it took the invention of the Otis elevator for real cities to go vertical. An sf writer from the 18th century could have been wrong as to the details of future elevators, but she could have extrapolated what it meant to cities – especially raw new cities such as Chicago and New York – if such elevators were in common use.
So it is in my Hyperion books. The science of the farcasters, the dataspheres, the All Thing, and so forth are doubletalk – but the society based upon them, the Hegemony, was a result of those technologies. When the farcasters fell, the Hegemony disintegrated. Once time and space could no longer be collapsed by technology, the Pax became the dominant society because it had the technology of resurrection – ‘We can't get you there in a lifetime, or alive, but we'll resurrect you when your corpse arrives’. Similarly, the Pax could not have become ascendant had the interstellar Internet of the datasphere and megasphere survived the Fall.
Not science – but rational extrapolation based on the interaction of science and technology with human societies.
PPH: So in some senses technology shapes humanity as well as vice versa?
DS: This is the substratum of all good sf. It's still debatable, but also very probable, that the huge and absurd growth of hominid skull and brain size (and complexity) was a result of using crude hand tools. 2001 had it right, I think... that wonderful five-million-year jump cut between the bone tossed in the air by the austrolopithecanus and the nuclear weapons in Earth orbit.
What's fun is speculating on how such modern tools lead not to larger brain size, but to an illiterate populace and lower human IQs for the masses.
PPH: John Clute suggests that your weaknesses are ‘a slight sentimentality about children’ and ‘a love of generic competence for its own sake’ [Clute, ‘Dan Simmons’]. Do you agree?
DS: I admire John Clute's writing, frequently self-created vocabulary, and critical acumen – and I certainly wouldn't mind if the most vicious things ever said about my writing [are] that I show ‘a slight sentimentality about children’ and ‘a love of generic competence for its own sake’ – but (while my own analyses of my literary weakness would be much harsher) I don't necessarily agree with Clute.
As for the ‘slight sentimentality about children’ – well, it's certainly true that children have more roles in my novels than in most adult fiction. And sometimes the young individuals – like Rachel in the Hyperion tales – should be worth worrying about and caring for. But ‘sentimentality’? I was an elementary teacher for 18 years. I liked many of my students, loved some of them, but never generically – never ‘as children’ – but always for the individuals they were or were in the process of becoming. And has my fiction really treated children sentimentally? In my first novel, Song Of Kali, I have the protagonists' infant child, Victoria, kidnapped, killed, and hollowed out by two people to smuggle jewels in the cavities of her corpse. In Summer Of Night, my most ‘nostalgic’ novel – which I maintain is about the ‘secrets and silences of childhood’ which such sentimental purveyors of childhood pap like Disney invariably violate – I have perhaps the most interesting character I've ever created, brilliant young novelist-to-be Duane McBride, brutally murdered half way through the novel. I could list many more examples, but I'll rest my case.
As for ‘a love of generic competence for its own sake’ – what exactly does that mean? A love for the specific writing competences and protocols of different genres? Well, I do admire such competence. But I'm famous (infamous) in the sf community and elsewhere for arguing – incessantly – that sf (or any other genre) becomes a genre ghetto whenever we apply ‘separate but equal standards’ to the field. They don't exist. Good writing is good writing – anywhere – in Shakespeare or a Sergio Leone script or a Hemingway short story or in an Elmore Leonard novel or a Patrick O'Brian ‘ripping sea yarn.’ If it's good enough, it has a chance to become literature. Or at least to survive and be appreciated beyond the popular cultural acceptance of its short days in the sun.
I'm not arguing this for the Hyperion books, but I love competence. (Which is another way of saying that I despise and have no time for successful incompetence, no matter how popular with the public.) This strikes me in poetry and art even more than in novels. Being a sometimes artist myself, I know the great difficulty and discipline involved – the number of tricks which must be mastered to create an illusion of realism or other effect (cubist, what have you) – the history of the art or poetry that must be understood in order to begin working well in the field, much less to create something original. I have no time for artists who can't draw hands. I have no patience with books filled with cardboard characters and over-the-counter sentiments. I seek in all art and poetry that ‘momentary stay against confusion’ – that shock of recognition across time and death in the last scene of John Fowles' brilliant Daniel Martin where the writer confronts the Rembrandt self-portrait. I don't think – in any art – that such a momentary stay against confusion can be created by accident. It is, as William Gass has said about words, ‘a minded thing’. And the creation of successful minded things demands knowledge of what has come before (in art or genre fiction or poetry or engineering) and a love of competence – not for its own sake – but as a means to the end of one's art.
These are ponderous replies to simple questions, but I rarely discuss these issues and they are the ones in which I immerse my life and work and about which I feel very, very deeply. Several times in my books I've quoted John Updike's wonderful phrase from his short story ‘The Music School’ – ‘I am neither musical nor religious; each time I set my fingers down it is without confidence of hearing a chord’. Those chords for us who aren't given faith or musical ability can be found in the poetry of Keats, the elegance of good writing, the draftsmanship of an Ingres or David, and the genius of a Rembrandt or Van Gogh.
The most quoted Keats is, I think, his shallowest poetic finale – ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, blah, blah’3 – but I think that he had something more complex in mind: the mathematician's concept of truth in the beauty of an elegant equation, the scientist or engineer's ecstasy at a ‘sweet solution’ – even if that solution is how to implode the atomic bomb properly so that it will reach critical mass and explode – the Picasso-esque celebration of excellence and competence beyond the subject matter of the effort.
PPH: Clute has also suggested that the Endymion novels are ‘quite remarkably savage about certain aspects of Christianity’, providing a ‘counterblast’ to the sympathetic Church of books such as A Canticle for Leibowitz [Clute, ‘Excessive Candour’]. My own feeling is that you show, by the actions and words of sympathetic priests such as Paul Duré, Father Glaucus and Father-Captain de Soya, that it is only aberrant forms of Christianity which you condemn. Which of us is mistaken?
DS: I haven't read the column but this amuses me (as do[es] the earnestness of similar questions from many interviewers in France.)
There's not a single element of Christianity which I attack in the Hyperion books. Not one. You're right to say that in the ‘sympathetic priests’ of Duré, Glaucus, de Soya, et al, I show my admiration for the most courageous of Christians – those whose temporal Church has turned against its own ideals. The Pax is much more than a mere aberrant form of Christianity – it is the ultimate Faustian undoing of faith itself. There are no savage attacks here. A friend of mine – William Placher – a classmate in college and now one of the most respected theologians in America, has pointed out that the Hyperion books do a great service to Christianity because they take religion seriously.
PPH: Was it always your intention that much of what we are told in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion would turn out to be incorrect?
DS: It was always my intention that most of the Great Truths revealed in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion would be shown to be incorrect if later volumes were written. My favourite line about this is from Kurt Vonnegut and his religion of Bokononism, where in the first line of the Book of Bokonon, the great prophet says – ‘All the great truths I reveal to you in this book are lies’ 4. I considered putting that as the epigram in the first two Hyperion novels. But, of course, they aren't really lies, are they? Merely tricks of perspective – such as in [Lawrence Durrell's] Alexandria Quartet – combined with the weakness of human interpretation (and a few deliberately unreliable narrators) which show too small a fragment of the hologram.
PPH: Why did you choose to give the name of Keats's fellow poet and editor, Leigh Hunt, to the character who watches your Keats character die?
DS: The friendship between Keats and Hunt, its turns and betrayals, fascinated me. I also had plans for Keats' real companion on the death tour of Italy, Joseph Severn, as another character in my book. In a sense, I ‘condemned’ Hunt to go with his friend – as they originally discussed – on this final voyage.
PPH: Martin Silenus describes the Shrike as ‘Michael the Archangel and Moroni and Satan and Masked Entropy and the Frankenstein Monster all rolled into one package’ [Hyperion 234]. Most of those references imply fairly profound things about the Shrike. But to what does ‘Masked Entropy’ refer?
DS: This is one of those good old sf gimmicks, when dealing with legends or famous names or whatever in the far future. There have to be a few new ones. Thus I can speak of Shakespeare, Spencer, Hemingway, and George Wu. I think the ‘Masked Entropy’ cult flourished early in the twenty-fifth century and was a racial subconscious response to the chaos of the Hegira much as Candide shows us the breakdown of optimism after the Lisbon earthquake.
PPH: The term is used in thermodynamics theory to refer to a form of entropy which is not immediately identifiable as such. Did you find the term in this context, or is this just a happy coincidence?
DS: A happy coincidence of knowing both thermodynamics theory and a great phrase when I hear one.
PPH: Do you have more projected volumes in mind for the Hyperion universe, or is the story finished now?
DS: There will be no more novels set in the Hyperion universe. I do have a novella – ‘Orphans of the Helix’ – in a Robert Silverberg anthology coming out in May of 1999, but that's just because I promised Bob a tale long ago and I wanted to be included in the pantheon of really good writers in this anthology.
1 ‘Sf’ is used as an abbreviation for ‘science fiction’ throughout.
2 I follow Clute and Nicholls's convention of representing individual book titles in italics, and titles of series in boldface. (Thus the novel Hyperion is the first volume of the sequence The Hyperion Cantos.)
3 ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’: ‘‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’ [Keats 210].
4 ‘All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies’ [Vonnegut 9].
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__________. ‘Simmons, Dan’. Clute, John and Peter Nicholls eds. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 2nd ed. London: Orbit-Little, 1993.
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