Fuzzy Nation, a fun fast read, versus Hyperion, a monumental mindbender

John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion are both in their own way great books, but they couldn’t be more different.

Three hundred page Fuzzy Nation is a fast paced tale about Bruce Holloway, an ethically challenged prospector on a planet that may or may not be home to one of the few sentient beings encountered by mankind. Holloway is a disbarred lawyer who called his girlfriend a liar in court to save his own ass. A disbarred lawyer? Lied about his now former girlfriend? Did I say Holloway is ethically challenged?

Holloway is wrangling with Zaracorp over the ownership of a sunstone discovery. If he wins, he’ll be richer than Bill Gates. Then he meets his first Fuzzy. Per law if the Fuzzies are sentient, then it’s their planet, including the sunstones.

Are they sentient? And even if they are, is Holloway willing to give up billions for some little furballs? What is Holloway going to do?

Fuzzy Nation is a fast, humorous read with a libertarian flare, which reminds me of some of Heinlein’s novellas.

The combined thousand pages of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion is at the other end of the science fiction spectrum. I believe these two books should be considered as one. I started reading Hyperion without realizing that. At Hyperion’s end, I was like “you can’t end the book like that!” I immediately bought The Fall of Hyperion.

Hyperion’s setting is the far future, which is populated by the Hegemony, the Ousters, and the TechnoCore. The Hegemony is a human civilization in many ways not unlike our own, but with technology far beyond ours. It exists in an uneasy symbiotic relationship with the Artificial Intelligences comprising the TechnoCore, which is responsible for much of the technology upon which the Hegemony is dependent. The Ousters are humans at odds with the Hegemony and genetically evolved to live in mostly non-planetary space.

The book begins with seven pilgrims journeying to visit the Time Tombs of the planet Hyperion, where they expect to meet the fearsome Shrike. Supposedly, they can ask the Shrike a question, but it seems more likely they’ll find their own death. The pilgrims include a diplomat, a warrior, a priest, an elderly scholar with an infant, a poet, a private investigator, and an enigmatic Templar. Why do they want to meet the Shrike?

Each of the pilgrims in turn tells their urgent reason for going on the pilgrimage and why they want to meet the Shrike. I found all the pilgrim’s tales interesting, although for me some of the tellings got a little tedious. I suspect, though, that readers will have different favorites among the pilgrims and their stories.

There is another important character, a cybrid, who is the human clone of the English poet John Keats, but also an artificial intelligence. This being spans the human/A.I. world.

Those are the bones of the book, but this isn’t the Canterbury Tales. Simmons gives you a heavy dose of religion, the interaction of human and self-aware artificial intelligences, what might be the aspirations of a group of unimaginably advanced A.I.’s, time travel, the evolution of mankind, and among other themes.

It is perhaps the most ambitious sci-fi book I’ve ever read. I can’t say everything is executed perfectly, but, hey, the book is over a thousand pages. Every page can’t be perfect. This book is a must read.


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