Ilium – Dan Simmons (2003)
ILIUM takes the timeless subject matter and themes of Homer’s Iliad and views them through the lens of SF. The result is an astounding achievement of pure storytelling and speculative science.
Spanning countless centuries and peopled by characters at once utterly human and compellingly alien, ILIUM throws new light on our ancient history and offers wild possibilities for our far future.
Blurb from the 2004 Gollancz paperback edition.
Dan Simmons, one of the masters of the modern juggernaut novel follows up his Hyperion series with a similar mix of literature and Hi-Tech Space Opera, apparently inspired by an essay on the Iliad by author David Denby.
Whereas in ‘Hyperion’ he employed elements of Keats and Chaucer, here he throws Homer, Shakespeare and Proust into the mix whilst at the same time creating a future where Homer’s vision of the Trojan War is being re-enacted.
On Earth, humans live a pampered existence, ‘faxing’ from one location to another, guarded by the mysterious alien Voynix and tended by servitors.
When they reach one hundred years old humans are faxed to the orbital firmary where they begin their long lives as post-humans, or so it is believed.
Elsewhere on Earth, the Trojan War is being re-staged, complete with the intervention of the Gods of Greek Legend. Scholars from Earth’s 21st Century have been recreated to observe and compare the contemporary events with those in Homer’s Iliad.
The Gods are in reality based on Mars on Olympos Mons and have the ability (as do the scholar-observers) to quantum teleport at will between the two planets.
Meanwhile the Moravecs, descendants of cyborg intelligences seeded in the asteroid belt and the Moons of Jupiter become concerned by the quantum fluctuations on Mars and send a mission to the Red Planet to destroy the source of the quantum menace which threatens the future of the entire Solar System.
The destinies of Earth humans, Moravecs and Gods become irrevocably entwined and various groups of people and robots become involved in a plot to storm Olympos and overthrow the Gods themselves.
It’s a vast and audacious concept into which Simmons throws himself with his usual relish. As in Hyperion, different aspects of a particular concept are used, as in correlations between the physical planets and moons of the Solar System and their mythical heritage. The Moravecs, Orphu and Mahnmut, originate on different moons of Jupiter (who is also Zeus, a major character in the novel). Olympus, home of the Gods is sited physically on Mars on Olympos Mons – the biggest volcano/mountain as yet known to man.
This is one of the first novels (if not the first) in a post 9-11 world to actually acknowledge the event, and indeed, the Iraq War, and it may be with some irony on Simmons’ part that he portrays the Gods as viewers and participants in a reality show.
The Gods tune in to the war live and can watch events privately or – Clash of The Titans style – on the rippling surface of a pool in the central hall of Olympos. It is the ultimate reality show, or else a comment on how we as a society are content to become desensitised and placidly watch scenes from a real war from our settees.