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Illium is a Speculative Fiction novel by writer Dan Simmons. It's 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, Homeric scholar from the 20th century, finds himself resurrected in the far future by the Greek Gods themselves...except not really. In fact they're post-humans imitating the Greek gods, and they're re-enacting the entire Trojan War on a terraformed Mars just for fun. 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 socities 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 Daemon 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 to investigate...
The sequel, Olympos, continues the story.
Illium and its sequel Olympos contain examples of the following tropes:
- AI 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.
- Action Girl: Savi. Also Hannah, to a lesser extent.
- 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."
- Badass: Savi, Harman, Daemon after some Character Development.
- Big Bad: Caliban for the Old-Style Human's story arc, the Gods of "Olympos" for the scholics trapped in the Iliad.
- 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.
- Casanova: Daemon believes himself to be this at the beginning of Illium.
- Character Development: Daemon, Daemon, Daemon.
- Cool Old Lady: Savi
- Cool Old Guy: Harman
- Cliff Hanger: The ending of Ilium.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Savi's story and Helen's own retelling of her life to Hockenberry.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Daemon 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.
- 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.
- Everybody Lives: Surprisingly enough.
- Expy: Savi / Moira is essentially Rachel Wintraub of Hyperion 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 Hyperion
- Foreshadowing: Loads upon loads of it! Especially prominent in Ilium.
- Greek Chorus: Invoked by Thomas at the very beginning of the, 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 actual Greek Choruses ("Sing, O Muse..."), but then he actually lampshades the trope:
If I am to be the unwilling Chorus of this tale, then I can start the story anywhere I choose. I choose to start it here. [And the plot begins]
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Mahnmut and Orphu. Well, as Heterosexual Life Partners as a sentient robot and a sentient crab-creature can be...
- Ho Yay: Mahnmut believes he sees this in Shakespeare's 116 sonnet to the mysterious "Young Man." In a feverish dream though, Mahnmut's dream version of Shakespeare is quick to disabuse him of the notion. Played straight with Achilles and Patroclus though, much to Hockenberry's disgust, which is then shot in the foot in Olympos when Achilles is completely interested in pursing a Hot Amazon queen.
- Hot Amazon: Penthesila.
- I Have Many Names: Savi, who by the novel's end is also known as Moira, Miranda or Moneta
- Jerkass: Daemon 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.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Daemon, after Character Development.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: This is what happens when the entire cast of The Iliad, a resurrected Scholic, two sentient robot creatures, and a band of five old style humans on earth. It's no wonder that the novels are huge.
- May-December Romance: Ada and Harman. Also Hannah and Odysseus.
- 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 quadtrilogy. 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.
- Played with in that these characters might not literally be from those stories, but simply are high-techn Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane Clarke's Third Law versions of them. But they sure as heck act like them.
- Pregnant Badass: Ada in Olympos.
- Parental Abandonment: Of a sort - none of the Old Style Humans living on Earth have any idea of fathers or mothers, since that part of life has been eliminated by test-tube conception and birth. 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.
- Precision F-Strike: Used occasionally as a means of showing how scared or nonplussed the characters are.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: All of the old-style humans living on Earth. They can (and in most cases, do) live up to 120 years, all the while looking youthful.
- Shout-Out: It's a Dan Simmons novel, who did you expect?
- Third Line, Some Waiting: Balancing three different storylines at once that will eventually intersect causes this trope to happen.
- 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.
- 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.