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Literature: Illium

Illium is a Speculative Fiction novel by writer Dan Simmons. It's a sprawling epic story that is conveyed through three seemingly disconnected but intertwining narratives. Though it touches on many topics, the story is perhaps best described as a high-tech reenactment of The Trojan War.

Professor Thomas Hockenberry, a Homeric scholar from the 20th century, finds himself resurrected in the far future by the Greek Gods...except not really. In fact they're post-humans pretending to be the Greek gods, and they're amusing themselves by re-enacting the entire Trojan War on a terraformed Mars. And it's Thomas's job to compare the events of the re-enactment to actual history.

Meanwhile, on Earth, humanity seems to be hugely reduced in population; the few societies that exist have everything they could ever want, due to instantaneous teleportation and advanced technology, but they live in relative ignorance of the past. A young man named Daeman struggles to make his cousin Ada notice him, but she only has eyes for an older man named Harman. Along with Ada's friend Hannah, the four are set off on a journey to figure out what's wrong with the world...why are there so few people? And why is there a giant ring in the sky?

At the same time, near Jupiter, two "moravecs" named Mahnmut and Orphu spend their time, when not mining the seas of Europa or flying around the Jupiter system, discussing ancient literature, the likes of Shakespeare and Proust. Eventually, they notice strange readings emanating from Mars, and determine that something there is warping reality to a degree which could destroy the universe. Mahnmut and Orphu begin to journey towards Mars to investigate...

The sequel, Olympos, continues the story.

Illium and its sequel Olympos contain examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The "Allnet", which expanded out of control and took over, resulting in humanity reverting back into a satiated, indolent, Eloi-like state.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Hockenberry subverts this trope deliberately in-story, motivating Achilles to rouse himself against the gods by disguising himself as Athena and abducting Patroclus.
  • Action Girl: Savi. Also Hannah, to a lesser extent.
  • A God Am I: Greek Gods, of course - but they are just little-g gods. Later on Zeus goes on to delude himself into thinking he is the capital-G God, usurping Nix, the Fates, and possibly the actual capital-G God (referred to as the Quiet in-story). His comeuppance comes extremely swiftly at the hands of his son Achilles, leaving Hephaestus as the new lord of Olympos.
  • Alternate Universe: These exist and can be traveled to and from.
  • An Aesop: Several, one being "There has got to be more to life" along with the heavy Author Appeal of "Literature is amazing, and we should learn all we can from this people of the past" and "Everything happens for a reason."
  • Author Tract: The second half of Olympos is home to several dozen pages of the author expounding on how awesome writing is - fictional writing, non-fictional writing, etc. Taken as a whole with his comparisons of pre- and post-literate societies, can become somewhat Anvilicious after awhile.
  • Badass: Savi, Harman, Daeman after some Character Development.
  • Big Bad: Caliban for the Old-Style Human's story arc, the Gods of "Olympos" for the scholics trapped in the Iliad.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Savi mutters a phrase in Hebrew in the first novel that is not translated, thus causing readers to wonder what it is, although some can guess.
  • Bookworm: Harman, the only man on earth who knows how to read, and who admits to carrying around a bag of books. The scholics by default. Hell, they have the Iliad memorized and know what happens next as they watch it unfold before their eyes.
  • Brain Uploading: One of the defining attributes of the post-humans, who are described as "wearing" bodies. The so-called "old style" humans also use a variation of this - the million plus satellites in the rings around Earth are dedicated storage devices for their bodies and memories, and let them freely teleport all over the world when they feel like it.
  • The Casanova: Daeman believes himself to be this at the beginning of Illium.
  • Character Development: Daeman, Daeman, Daeman. Averted with almost all of the heroes inhabiting the ancient Greek setting.
  • Cool Old Lady: Savi
  • Cool Old Guy: Harman
  • Cliffhanger: The ending of Ilium.
  • Cultured Badass: Ulysses, who at one recites a portion of his namesake poem that is perfectly apt to the circumstances.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Savi's story and Helen's own retelling of her life to Hockenberry.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Daeman ends up with neither prominent female character (ie, Ada, Hannah), but he doesn't seem to mind. On the other hand, Hannah does not get the guy - she does not end up with Odysseus, however much she wants to.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Hockenberry when he sees Helen at her bath.
  • Doorstopper: The novel clocks in at 573 pages, which is fair, as it is really two stories cut in half for readability. The continuation of the story happens in Olympos, and that companion novel takes the Doorstopper element of the books Up to Eleven - it clocks in at 690 pages.
  • Everybody Lives: Surprisingly enough.
    • Except Savi...
  • Expy: Savi / Moira is essentially Rachel Wintraub of the Hyperion Cantos placed into a new setting. Much like Rachel, she can travel back and forth in time and her death brings rebirth for herself as "Moira" and the others of humankind. Heck, once Prospero even refers to her playfully as "Moneta", Rachel's nickname in the Cantos
    • It is explicitly stated that Moira is a post-human who took over Savi's appearance, and is not actually Savi.
  • Foreshadowing: Loads upon loads of it! Especially prominent in Ilium.
  • Genius Loci: The Earth's biosphere combines with the Internet to give rise to a basically sentient noosphere or something, which takes on the avatar of Ariel from Shakespeare's Tempest.
  • Greek Chorus: Invoked by Thomas at the very beginning of the, since he is supposed to be the Greek Chorus to the Gods who resurrected him. Played with, since the intro stylistically hews close to actual actual Greek Choruses ("Sing, O Muse..."), but then he actually lampshades the trope:
    If I am to be the unwilling Chorus of this talk, then I can start the story anywhere I choose. I choose to start it here. [And the plot begins]
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mahnmut and Orphu. Well, as Heterosexual Life-Partners as a sentient robot and a sentient crab-creature can be...
  • I Have Many Names: Savi, who by the novel's end is also known as Moira, Miranda or Moneta
  • Jerkass: Daeman starts off like this, but thanks to Character Development, he grows out of it by the story's end. He's even happy for Ada and Harman, an attitude he would not have shown at the novel's beginning.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Daeman, after Character Development.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: This is what happens when the entire cast of The Iliad, a resurrected Scholic, two sentient robot creatures, and a band of five old style humans on earth in one story. It's no wonder that the novels are huge.
  • Magic from Technology: The Olympian Gods, actually post-humans doing a little live-action role-playing, use technology that to all practical intents and purposes is magic.
  • May-December Romance: Ada and Harman. Also Hannah and Odysseus.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Let's see...we have a re-enaction of the epic poem of Homer, two sci-fi robot creatures, and the people of an Earth that no longer remembers how to live (as they have essentially become Eloi) and the Reveal that another time traveller shares the same name as one from another continuity; the Hyperion Cantos. However, when you put the two together the facts match up: Moira is Jewish, as is Rachel, and they both are described as having dark hair and being able to travel through time, having a small romance of some sort. Put 'em all together and you get a work like this one.
  • Middle Eastern Coalition: The now defunct Global Caliphate, which was responsible for the the loss of much of the world's population.
  • Neural Implanting: The Sharing Function.
  • No Bisexuals: Hockenberry almost blue screens when he sees Achilles and Patroclus snuggle up together after they have just had sex with women. Apparently he somehow missed the part about them being from Ancient Greece.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Global Caliphate again.
  • Pregnant Badass: Ada in Olympos.
  • Parental Abandonment: Of a sort - none of the Old Style Humans living on Earth have any idea who their fathers are, though relationships with mothers remain important. Thus, when Harman tells Ada that he desires to stay alive beyond his "fifth twenty" (the maximum age a human is usually allowed to be, and also when most people choose to die) to be a father to their child, the idea is foreign and shocking to her, and she is actually angry at him for suggesting it at first.
  • The Plague: The Rubicon Virus, which was really a Synthetic Plague created by the Global Caliphate to kill the Jews, but which ended up spreading to most of humanity - ironically, the Jews were the only ones to survive it.
  • Precision F-Strike: Used occasionally as a means of showing how scared or nonplussed the characters are.
  • Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything: Seriously, anything.
  • Really 700 Years Old: All of the old-style humans living on Earth. They can (and in most cases, do) live up to 100 years, all the while looking youthful.
  • Shout-Out: It's a Dan Simmons novel, who did you expect? A Moravec General in Olympos suggests nuking something from orbit, as it is the only way to be sure, along with other subtler shout outs to both modern pop culture.
  • The Singularity: The post-humans blew right through this centuries before the story begins. Subsequently feeling rather bored after unraveling the secrets of the universe they decide to go out and play god, Greek gods to be specific. It could also be said the other powerful forces at work in the story come through the singularity as well - writers of sufficient genius such as Homer and Shakespeare actually created or somehow glimpsed parallel universes in which their stories were true. This allows the post-humans to pull elements or entire planets from these other universes into our main one.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The fax nodes used by the old-style humans, who later learn to "free-fax" to and from anywhere on Earth using direct access to the orbital systems that run the fax nodes. Post-humans had more powerful and self-contained quantum teleportation.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Balancing three different storylines at once that will eventually intersect causes this trope to happen. The story further fragments in Olympos, leading to occasional Four Lines, All Waiting.
  • Time Travel: The French once developed a version that only allowed things to be sent into the future. The Global Caliphate of course tried to weaponize it. The post-humans have a more flexible kind, which allows travel into the past as well as alternate universes.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Ada, who is demure, quiet, and in love with Harman, in contrast with Hannah, who makes her own furnace, wields Odysseus' sword, and in general is more of an Action Girl than Ada.
  • Transhuman: The post-humans/ Olympian Gods. Even so-called "old-style" humans have some shades of this, as implanted cybernetics give them access to "functions", most of which invoke networked technology to provide information and sensory enhancements, and as they later discover, the ability to teleport without having to use the fax nodes.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: Really badly abused in one of the more ridiculous side plots in the novels. The Global Caliphate, having finally become so crazed as to want to destroy the world, somehow find the mass to create bowling ball sized black holes, then load them onto missiles somehow, and plan to launch them from a submarine. The plot fails of course. The bad science here is just so extreme that it breaks right through the boundaries that have already been pushed in the storyline.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: One can only fully understand every reference after studying Homer's The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Shakespeare's The Tempest, Browning's 'Caliban upon Setebos' and also have some familiarity with The Time Machine, the complete works of Marcel Proust, Shakespeare's sonnets, and Hans Moravec's writings. They should know a decent amount about quantum physics, the Voynich manuscript, terraforming, transhumanism, and biosphere theory. Even then...no guarantees you'll get everything.
    • It helps that there are characters who love talking about Proust and The Iliad while much of the rest can be taken as "awesome magic stuff", but you won't really understand Noman-Odysseus's story arc at all unless you are up on a very large body of classical literature.

Hyperion CantosCreator/Dan SimmonsDrood
A Study in EmeraldHugo AwardBlind Lake
The Identity MatrixScience Fiction LiteratureIlluminatus!
IdlewildLiterature of the 2000sI, Lucifer

alternative title(s): Illium; Olympos
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