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Literature / Illium

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Ilium, and its sequel Olympos, are a pair of Speculative Fiction novels by writer Dan Simmons, telling 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 with a small team to investigate, unaware of the dangers that await them on the mysterious Red Planet...

    Olympos (Spoilers for Ilium follow!) 

The sequel, Olympos, continues the story: The "Trojan War" has been derailed completely by the arrival of the Moravecs, and now they fight along side the uneasily allied Trojans and Greeks against the "gods" that once used them as playthings. On Earth, humanity's peace has been completely upended as the once-docile Voynix, which have served and protected them for centuries, have suddenly become murderous killing machines that kill all humans on sight, and have already overrun several human settlements. As Ada, Daeman, and Harman search for a way to stop the Voynix, they find themselves hunted by a terrifying monster that serves a mysterious, even more terrifying master...

Ilium 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 against the Trope Namer himself in-story, motivating Achilles to rouse himself against the gods by disguising himself as Athena and abducting Patroclus.
    • Ironically in the second book it's Hector of Troy who confines himself to his quarters in morning. He snaps out of it when the Greeks breach the walls of Troy and kills Diomedes and Ajax.
  • Action Girl: Savi. Also Hannah, to a lesser extent.
  • A God Am I: The 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. His takes on feminism (embodied by the post-humans), non-heterosexuality and Islam are also pretty heavy-handed as well.
  • Bash Brothers: Ajax and Teucer, as well as Agamemnon and Menelaus, just like in The Iliad.
  • Big Bad: Caliban for the Old-Style Human's story arc, the Gods of "Olympos" for the scholics trapped in the Iliad. By the time Olympos has come around, Setebos has taken over as the primary big bad in both stories.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Moravecs have a knack for this; in the first book they come in to save the rebelling Trojan/Greek armies from being destroyed by the Greek Gods and give them the firepower needed to actually have a fighting chance, and in the second they swoop in to rescue the old-style humans on Earth from the attacking Voynix, literally seconds before they were about to be slaughtered.
  • The Big Guy: Big Ajax serves this role for the Greeks, being the biggest and strongest of them.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Ajax is killed by Hector halfway through the second book.
  • 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 and Odysseus.
  • Cliffhanger: The ending of Ilium.
  • Cultured Badass: Odysseus, who at one point 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.
    • Helen apparently retains her fondness for Hockenberry to the end of the book, but Hockenberry prefers to stay at the rebuilt Ardis Hall and assist with rebuilding human civilization while she would rather go adventuring in the new world.
  • Deconstruction: The situation of the Greek gods can be seen as one of Clarke's Third Law. They plunged headlong into The Singularity and came out on top with an almost unfathomable level of technology, including but not limited to effective immortality, instant travel, and transdimensional portals, but humans will still be humans and they use their powers to literally play gods and reenact the Battle of Troy as their own personal LARP session, uncaring of the actual human suffering they're causing along the way. Not only that, but the Laws of Conservation of Energy are in full effect here, and the sheer amount of energy exchanged that the gods use to play their giant game session is literally tearing the universe apart at the seams. At the same time, there are also moments that can't be explained by even the most advanced of technology in the book, implying that there's something more than just sufficiently advanced tech going on behind it all.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Hometown: Ardis Hall for Ada. It survives the first book, but halfway through the second, it is burned to the ground by the Voynix.
    • Ilium (a.k.a. Troy) may also count, having received its fair share of damage from the Greek armies, wrathful gods and quantum teleportation fields to the point that it is almost in ruins by the end, despite its Iliad -ordained fate being avoided.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Hockenberry takes the form of Paris and sleeps with Helen. When she discovers her partner is not Paris, she doesn't mind and asks for more.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Setebos.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Just like in the Iliad, the Greek hero Diomedes gets some augmentations from Athena that allow him to go into a rampage and defeat Aphrodite and Ares as well as dozens of Trojan heroes.
  • 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, however, 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 story, 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 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]
  • Handicapped Badass: Orphu gets blinded and immobilized by a god's plasma blast early in the first book and spends the rest of the book and the entire second book blind due to permanent damage to his optic nerves, but that doesn't seem to slow him down. Even in his weakened state at the end of the first book, he still manages to take command of the rockvecs with the authority of a five-star general without question and in the second book, he manages to figure out the entire background of the story using nothing but conjecture, observations and his own knowledge of old world history.
  • Hero of Another Story: Koros III is simultaneously an Action Hero, Guile Hero and Science Hero and is definitely a badass but he isn't a main character and his adventures are only alluded to by other characters.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mahnmut and Orphu. Well, as Heterosexual Life-Partners as two sentient robots—one a miniature humanoid and the other a truck-sized horseshoe crab—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.
  • Jerkass Gods: Almost all of them, except for The Quiet and Hephaestus. If they're not playing toy soldiers with actual people, they're plotting and scheming among themselves, or in some cases, doing both, though in Hephaestus' case, he's actually plotting to stop the war and keep his fellow gods from destroying all of existence.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Daeman, after Character Development.
  • Love Potion: The leader of the Amazons uses a perfume variant in an attempt to infatuate and immobilize Achilles so she can kill him. Unfortunately for her, she underestimates Achilles' fighting ability (and the direction of the wind) and she and her comrades are slaughtered. Unfortunately for him, he catches a whiff of the perfume at the last second and finds himself hopelessly and permanently in love with a corpse. His journey to find a way to revive her actually becomes a vital part in Hephaestus' plot to overthrow Zeus and end the war.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: A vengeful Zeus invokes this after realizing Hera drugged him to take him out of the picture while she tried to restore status quo on Iliad-Earth. Helen, when later recounting the scene to Hockenberry, explicitly uses the word destroyed to describe Hera's fate and mentions that the pieces of Hera and her chariot that fell from the sky continued burning and sizzling for days.
  • Magic Feather: Hockenberry's QT Medallion is revealed to be this by Hephaestus. As it turns out, Hockenberry was specifically rebuilt with the ability to QT, with the medallion serving to give him the impression that he cannot QT without it.
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear: In Olympos, Ada reluctantly tolerates the human survivors keeping the Setebos Hatchling alive, even as the creature tortures her and other creatures via telepathy, as the same telepathy is keeping the rampaging Voynix away from their refuge...that is, until the creature says it is "teaching" her unborn child, at which point she immediately takes a flechette rifle and mag-dumps the thing, Voynix be damned.
  • 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.
    • To elaborate: Most of the major players from The Iliad show up, including Odysseus and Achilles. Characters from The Tempest appear, such as Prospero and Caliban. The Aeneid and the Posthomerica also get a few cameos.
  • May–December Romance: Ada and Harman. Also Hannah and Odysseus.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Savi
  • Middle Eastern Coalition: The now defunct Global Caliphate, which was responsible for the loss of much of the world's population.
  • Neural Implanting: The Sharing Function.
  • New Neo City: New Ilium.
  • 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.
  • Noble Demon: Hephaestus, while crude, is far more likable than the rest of the Olympians, particularly because he knows that Zeus' tyrannical rule will lead all of the Olympic Gods to ruin.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Global Caliphate, as well as Setebos and Caliban.
  • Only Sane Man: Hephaestus is the only Greek god who remembers being a human, as a result he is much more stable than the others and is well aware of the damage that their wanton playing is causing to the fabric of reality.
  • 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.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: The alliance between the Achaeans, the Trojans and the moravecs going to war against the Olympians.
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: The main reason why the Moravecs and Rockvecs declared war on the "Greek god" post-humans. The gods were slinging their powers around with reckless abandon with no regard to the damage they were doing on the fabric of reality and if they didn't stop, they could have destroyed the entire multiverse.
  • 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.
    • Orphu of Io offhandedly mentions in the second book that he's 1200 years old. Moravecs themselves live up to two or three centuries, which is impressive on its own, but considering that the The Singularity happened 1400 years ago, that means Orphu was built a mere two centuries after it occurred.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: An interesting version in the case of Moravecs and Rockvecs. They are not modified humans, being designed and built for their life tasks, but they do utilize pieces of organic matter and Bio Tech in their designs. On top of that, they're fully sentient, to the point of many taking interest in Old World human literature as a hobby of sort. Physically, few if any look even remotely human, ranging from small, only vaguely humanoid robots to enormous armored crabs the size of an SUV.
  • Shout-Out: It's a Dan Simmons novel, who did you expect? A Moravec General in Olympos suggests nuking something from orbit, as [[ItsTheOnlyWayToBeSure it is the only way to be sure.]], along with other subtler shout-outs to 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.
  • Straw Feminist: The post-humans apparently, since when they bothered to put on human bodies at all they chose female ones exclusively. Moira, the only stock post-human still running loose, expresses disdain towards her fellows who ran off to become "gods", most especially the male "gods", which she says she considers a "demotion".
  • 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.
  • Twinmaker: This is how the Firmary can bring back Daeman even after he has been eaten by an Allosaurus. It basically just recreates him using the scan taken from the last time he used a fax node. There is a hint in the fact that his memories do not include the events leading up to his being eaten, because that was after he was faxed.
  • 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. The Moravecs lampshade this a little, making a few offhand comments about the dubiousness of the Caliphate's plot actually succeeding, but ultimately decide to have the missiles carried into orbit and flung into space as far away from Earth as possible, just to be safe.
  • 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.
  • World of Badass: Even characters like Daeman and Hockenberry get their moments.
  • Worthy Opponent: Paris and Apollo have a mutual respect for each other, despite being enemies. When Paris is mortally wounded Apollo even tries to save his life.

Alternative Title(s): Olympos