Though 'Hyperion' is dependent upon its sequel and ends with a tooth-grinding cliff-hanger, it is in its way self-contained. 'Hyperion' is centered on the six pilgrims' tales, their pasts, the terrible needs which drive them to confront what is almost certain death--or worse. Each of the tales is written in a unique style, and each introduces a new element to bind the story as a whole. All are wrenching, even disturbing in their intensity, in their focus on the deepest possible of human suffering.
Do not read this book if you're looking for a light, fun read. In fact, forget it. This book defies all expectations, serves up horrors that were hitherto unimaginable if you are even remotely sane. Dan Simmons is in this book exploring a world that has lost its soul and is decaying by inches. To underscore that decay, the tales focus on the underpinnings of humanity--death, love, parenthood, art--and twist them into the most horrific contortions possible. The tale of the cruciform, for example, investigates with terrifying clarity the possibility of there being a fate far, far worse than death.
As a result, the quest of each pilgrim has a greater significance than being merely a quest; in the empty world which Simmons creates, they are pioneers searching for a depth beyond the tested parameters of their rotting civilization. The atmosphere of the book is overshadowed by the horror of the Shrike, yet does not completely dim the hope of what might be.
Steeped in the tangled sorrows that drive them, the characters do not always engender sympathy. I found Kassad shallow and difficult to relate to, and the explicit sex a turn-off. However, Martin Silenus, Sol Weintaub and the Consul--to name a few--are fully realized, complex characters, and even at their worst moments, still by their very existence encourage the reader to keep reading simply to learn their fates.