While the last Dan Simmons novel I read left a bad taste in my mouth (The Abominable) I was extremely intrigued by Ilium when I saw it at the library. A futuristic Greek epic whose back cover description did nothing to prepare me for what happened inside.

There are three story lines here, one told in first person. There’s Thomas Hockenberry, the scholic, plucked out of time as a 21st century professor of Greek history by the literal gods, and made to watch the events of The Iliad as they happen. How long before he draws the ire of Zeus himself? Deep in space, the Moravecs, advanced robots designed by humans, watch the planet Mars with fear. Someone is using quantum technology in a way that could rip open the fabric of space-time. Perhaps it already has. And down on Earth, the old-style humans live in luxury, awaiting their ascension, unaware of their history, or the horrible reality they actually reside in.

There’s a lot going on.

Personally, Hockenberry’s story wasn’t too exciting. Just not a very likable character. I much preferred the Moravec’s Mahnmut and Orphu as they debate Shakespeare versus Proust and try to find out what humans have been up to all these years.

Simmons usually does a great job of subverting expectations for me. When an extremely sexist character appeared to be one of the main characters, I was convinced I wouldn’t like the book. But then an allosaurus runs out of the woods and eats him. Yes, an allosaurus.

There’s an odd balance here between assuming a character is a straight, white perspective or the author is viewing everything in that lens. One lets us know who the character is, one shows us that other characters don’t have a mind of their own. And I had trouble differentiating them in this book. I grew so tired of the description “milky-white thighs” always in reference to a woman. The Greeks were pretty dark skinned, maybe the Macedonians were lighter but I doubt it. BUT is that the author’s biases coming through OR is it the literal manifestation of Greek gods as Renaissance humans imagined them which means that they therefore would be pretty white?

Ilium doesn’t have the answer. Perhaps the next book will. I enjoyed enough in here to keep going, but I doubt a casual reader will want to invest in such a large tome without truly loving the genre.

2 out of 4 stars

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