I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book that I decided to listen to a whim. A mix of time travel and modern-day politics? Okay, let's see how the author handles it. To my surprise, he handled it very well indeed. Usually anyone who decides they're going to take on 9/11, gentrification, racial issues, and historical revisionism has an axe to grind, but Mullen's axe is hard to figure out. What politics there are in the novel are not overt, which means you can sit back and enjoy the story, and it's a very good story.
Basically, there is an agent "Z" from a future society whose job is to prevent a group of would-be revisionists from Z's time from changing the past and thus destroying the society of the future. Initially Z is presented to us as a good guy defending an advanced, peaceful society from possibly devastating historical changes. As the story goes on, however, we learn that Z's society isn't as wonderful as we've been led to believe -- indeed, as Z has been led to believe. Increasingly, he questions his mission and the truth behind it, and through flashbacks we learn just how dark the future really is.
Paralleling Z's story is that of a former CIA agent in our own time who, like Z, increasingly found the ideals he was supposedly working for in conflict with the work he was actually doing. There is also a young Washington, D.C. lawyer searching for the truth about her younger brother who died in Iraq, and a domestic worker trapped in Washington by her abusive employer who has diplomatic immunity.
Weaving all these different threads together would be complicated enough in a plain old thriller, but as it is a science fiction novel as well, I feared it would either be a mess or something resolved with some kind of deux ex machina. In fact, everything ties together quite well, and the overall tone of the novel does not even feel that much like a science fiction novel, more like a literary thriller. This would be a good book to hand someone who likes mysteries and thrillers but not science fiction particularly. The time travel elements are so unobtrusive you don't even find yourself worrying about the sorts of things you usually do in time travel stories like the Grandfather Paradox, etc.
There is some philosophizing by all the characters, each of whom is basically a good person who sometimes acts out of self-interest and has to weigh how much guilt and responsibility they can bear. Overall, a good and somewhat intellectual read with a fast-paced story. This one really surprised me. Recommended for a change of pace for anyone who likes science fiction, and worth trying even by those who don't.
This is a fine mix of Big Idea SF with human drama on a much smaller scale. The Big Idea is a conqueror from the future named "Kuin" who is somehow able to send massive monuments to his victories back in time, where they stand invulnerable and ominous over the lands he is destined to conquer. The first ones are in Thailand, but over the next few years they appear all over Asia. Some materialize in relatively unpopulated areas, but some appear in the middle of cities, flattening them with shockwaves. Scientists determine (using hand-wavey physics) that these "chronoliths" are indeed from the future, which means Kuin really is going to conquer all of Asia in about twenty years. This sets off global turmoil. Some prepare to fight; others begin urging accommodation or outright capitulation. By the time Kuin's chronoliths are appearing outside of Asia, there are entire "Kuinist" militias and organizations, and of course innumerable warlords in the now-devastated Asian warring states claiming to be Kuin.
This is the backdrop of the story, which is really about Scott Warden and his family. Scott is a kind of mediocre husband and father slacking off in Thailand when the first chronolith appears there. Being one of the first witnesses to the first appearance of the chronoliths inescapably binds him to the events that follow over the next few decades. As he is told by Sulasmith Chopra, the scientist who studies the chronoliths and believes that Kuin can be stopped, "there are no coincidences." Scott goes through a divorce, his ex-wife marries a Kuin accommodationist, his daughter, as a teenager, hooks up with a young Kuinist ideologue who turns out to be a psychopath, which brings Scott together with the psychopath's mother. His drug-dealing friend from his time in Thailand reappears, as do all the other characters we meet over the course of the book.
It's Scott's interactions with his family and friends that are the heart and soul of this book. The characters are not all vivid or interesting, but they are distinct and they each have a purpose in the story, and Scott narrates a compelling story as he weathers a long, brutal economic downturn that turns even the U.S. into an impoverished country, works for Sulasmith Chopra trying to understand who Kuin is and what the chronoliths represent, travels to Mexico to save his daughter from Kuinists who have gone on a "haj" to see the manifestation of the first chronolith in North America, and finally, goes to meet his destiny in a climactic confrontation in Wyoming.
"Kuin" is basically a MacGuffin; ultimately, it doesn't really matter who he is or if he even exists. It's what he represents that drives all the world events. With the rules of time travel Wilson establishes in this book, cause and effect are looped together, so we are finally able to understand why all the small human dramas Scott was involved in add up to something of greater significance at the end. Wilson's take on time travel is intelligent and subtle, and by keeping Kuin a mysterious off-screen presence whose very existence remains in doubt, he makes the whole thing plausible without having to deal with paradoxes, parallel universes, and the like. Wilson has thought through all the implications, and if the end of the story seems like a bit of an anti-climax, it's also one that makes perfect sense.
Wilson's writing is straightforward but occasionally he waxes almost poetic. He's one of those writers who likes to show off his vocabulary, yet even the tech and time travel physics infodumps were brief and clear.
Although this wasn't the most wonderful book in recent memory or a true masterpiece, it's definitely a hidden gem of high quality, and I came very close to giving it 5 stars. Given the eloquent but clear writing, it's a science fiction novel that a non-sci-fi fan might well enjoy, since the time travel and near-future history is only background for the characters and the plot which drive the story. I give it 4.5 stars; it's very good, I just didn't quite find it unique or mindblowing or the characters memorable enough to make it awesome.
Although it takes place centuries after The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion seems to pick up right after the end of the last book. This is the third book in Dan Simmons's "Hyperion Cantos." Since it's the first book of a second duology, you could start reading with this book, since the entire universe is pretty much introduced anew, but there are so many references to events that took place in the first two books, now history in this one, that you will probably feel like you're missing a lot.
At the end of The Fall of Hyperion, the Hegemony of Man was falling, due to the attack of the Ousters who weren't really Ousters but constructs of the TechnoCore. As Endymion begins, the Hegemony is history, and now human space is ruled by the Pax; a resurgent Holy Roman Catholic Church empowered by the cruciform parasites we encountered in Hyperion, which allow anyone to recover from any injury and be resurrected from nearly any fatality. The Pax has figured out how to control them so that people who receive the cruciform are not turned into mindless idiots, which means that the Church now literally offers eternal life.
The child of Brawne Lamia and the cybrid Johnny Keats emerges from the Time Tombs, and the Pax views her as a threat to all of mankind, for reasons that are not clear until the end. So they send Father-Captain de Soya to "fetch" her. Meanwhile, that irascible dirty old man Martin Silenus is still kicking around, and he recruits Raul Endymion, a native of the planet Hyperion who fell into a little trouble with the Pax, to go save her. As he tell Raul, he doesn't just want Raul to save his god-daughter from the Pax. He also wants Raul to destroy the Pax, find out what the superhuman artificial intelligences known as the TechnoCore have been up to these past few centuries, oh, and take down that enigmatic, unstoppable alien killing machine known as the Shrike. No problem.
Endymion alternates between the POV of Raul Endymion and Father-Captain de Soya, adversaries but both of them ultimately good guys if not always serving good ends. There's plenty of interplanetary space opera drama and action, but for me it didn't really get good until the final few chapters when conspiracies begin to be unveiled, and of course, we finally got the kick-ass battle with the Shrike we've been waiting for.
Like Hyperion, Endymion ends very much on a "To be continued" note. Either of the two duologies can be read independently, but definitely read the first book of each first (and if you like it you will certainly have to read the second).
I recommend reading the first two books first because frankly, they are better. Endymion isn't bad, but it's a solid 3.5 stars - great epic space opera if you like epic space operas, but whereas Simmons dropped a whole lot of finely-crafted worldbuilding with star-spanning conspiracies and multiple existential alien threats in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, in this third book, there's not so much new as building on what he introduced before. If you are a dedicated consumer of space opera, this is above average for the genre, but falls short of greatness, and really I think the series could have ended with Fall of Hyperion. But I will go on to read the fourth and final volume.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
This is my first time read a Elizabeth Moon book. I had never heard of her before I listen to the interview with her and David Weber. After listening to the interview I was interested enought to give her a try. I enjoyed the story of a young girl from a shipping family that was asked to resign from the military academy because she helped an underclassman find a priest outside of the school who then went on media campaign against the school. Her father makes her a cargo ship Captain (she had her master's license) and sent her off in a old ship to make some trades on way to wrecking yard. The story is interesting and their is lots of adventure, suspense and battles. She is attracted to the military life and the story sets up and leaves you with the question will she stay as a cargo captain or join a mercenary company. This is the first book in a series and set up the character and story line for the series. Cynthia Holloway did okay narrating the book. Can not wait to start book two.