From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hugo winner Simmons (the Hyperion Cantos) combines his fine prose with a well-developed sense of wonder and love for reworked literary and mythological materials. In this far future, Earth is a mausoleum and the far-flung human race occupies the lowest level of a complex interstellar hierarchy. The Earth's Men travel to distant worlds and perform Shakespeare before human servants and slaves, bringing them some moments of pleasure and notions of Earth's lost glory. When aliens take an interest, the Earth's Men find themselves giving command performances of King Lear
and the Scottish play for a series of increasingly important alien species, with evidence that the fate of all humanity may rest on the quality of their work. This finely crafted novella is a perfect example of Simmons's many strengths. (Dec.)
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The Muse of Fire schleps the Shakespearean troupe the Earth’s Men to the many planets inhabited by the slaves called arbeiters and doles, who, like the actors, are human. The players are slaves, too, really, like all humans since, thousands of years ago, the Archons found earth and erased its culture, except for Shakespeare. After a particularly good Macbeth, attended by some Archons and their dragomen (interpreters), one of the latter comes to the company and orders them to play for an all-Archon audience on another world. After that he orders them to yet another to play before the Demiurgos, who control the Archons, and after that to another to perform for Abraxas, the incarnate god. The actors thereby climb the ladder of a universal order humans have been made to believe is divine. They suspect they’re being tested. They are, as proxies for all humanity—and more. Simmons’ novella, narrated by a young male earth’s Man, is an exceptionally artful religious legend of the far future, and quite special. --Ray Olson