Superabundance, by Heinz Helle

Superabundance, by Heinz HelleA deeply philosophical, hopeful little novel about fear, attention, community, morality, perception, and the nature and/or existence of consciousness. As sparse as Don DeLillo, but descriptive in a vague, matter of fact manner. God I loved this book.

Heinz HelleThe unnamed protagonist in Superabundance states the obvious in an alien way. Not just alien as in, not from around here alien, but alien to the point that it seems like this character may only recently have become human, and may not yet be aware of the fact. It begins as a look at the lives of Americans in New York City from an outsider’s perspective. The protagonist overanalyzing everything around him, social norms and situations, the nature of his work, how basic and repetitive life truly is, etc, and progresses from there into an existential question about the human condition and the nature of control.

It somewhat reminded me of The Stranger by Camus, mostly in the way that the protagonist seems simultaneously cripplingly self-centered, self-unaware, but also hyper aware of everything around him, the world swimming past him that he’s drowning in. There’s a telling moment where he feels the need to apologize to everyone and everything for his nature. He is powerless to change who he is. His attention is continually drawn in by everything except what he wants/feels he should be attentive toward. He is realizing how little control he actually possesses. He fears his libido, fears that he may not stay loyal, fears that he can see his relationship deteriorating before his eyes, fears that he may not be conscious, fears that he may be all too conscious.

“I don’t think you even know what love is, she says, running her fingernail across the fitted sheet and looking at the books on the floor beside the bed, and I look at her fingernail, then at the books, and I think, of course I don’t know what love is, and I say: Of course I know what love is.”

I was particularly impressed by the subtlety Helle exercised in illustrating this slow deterioration of a relationship. Little things, eventually snowballing into something insurmountable. No real starting point, nothing to point to and say “This is where it all went wrong”, just a gradual decline from a seed that had no inception. An inevitability of two people being who they are. It’s a powerful statement on materialism in the philosophical definition of the word.

The last few scenes in the novel may be my favorite scenes in any book ever. Its delicious, strangely hopeful celebration of the majesty, glory, and variety of life present in humanity makes me want to embrace the next person I see and scream “We are the same, you and I! We are the same!”

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

This is another one of those classics of SF literature that I have somehow missed reading over the years. Had I been more of an active reader in the nineties, I’m sure I would’ve come to it much sooner. Thankfully, I finally got there, and Hyperion was not what I expected, in the best way possible. It’s most often compared to Dune, The Book of the New Sun, or other great works of Science Fantasy. Obviously, coming into the novel my expectations were high, and I knew the most basic gist of the plot: a pilgrimage across a world to meet an unimaginable being. What I got was partly what I anticipated, but in a very left-field form, which was such a refreshing subversion of my what I thought I was getting myself into. It delivered on what I thought it was, but in a way I never imagined, and it was fantastic.

Dan SimmonsInstead of straight-forward narrative momentum, Hyperion is almost entirely the backstories of these pilgrims. It’s heavily character based, and the only book I can honestly say is 100% both a novel, and a story collection. These stories are more technically novellas, because of their length, but you get what I’m saying. Each story genuinely adds to the forward narrative, by going backward. It’s really quite breathtaking to see this done so well. I’ve read other collections that are also novels, but they’re always more one or the other. This is equally both.

Each tale feels like a slightly different genre married to science fiction, and the interstitial sections weave them together tightly. Only one of them fell slightly flat for me. Mostly because it was more akin to cyberpunk than anything else, and I have a real love/hate affair with cyberpunk. I tend to judge the genre entirely too harshly at times, mostly because if I have any sort of professional knowledge, it’s in the Information Technology arena, and I have a difficult time suspending my disbelief about the realities of virtual worlds in regards to how they’re represented in cyberpunk. That’s a topic for another day.

Hyperion has that indescribable, almost lovecraftian terror, dread and brooding present throughout, and one tale in particular left me unbearably heartbroken. There’s honestly only one thing I can objectively complain about here, and it’s more endemic to the genre during the time period this was written in than anything else: the way the narrator spends an inordinate amount of time describing women’s bodies, broken down into parts, particularly breasts and nipples. It’s just kind of eye-roll pervy, but it’s my only real gripe. Thankfully, it’s not quite at a Haruki Murakami level, and this doesn’t much happen anymore in the really well written stuff of the genre, but I’m more embarrassed for the author than anything else, award winning fiction like this is fairly written in stone for future generations to examine.

I was torn whether or not to dig straight into The Fall of Hyperion after finishing this, but ultimately I decided not to just yet. I want to let this percolate and grow in my mind, but mostly I’m one of those anti-bingeing types that prefers to spread great stories out over a long period of time, to elongate my enjoyment of them, and better unpack their themes. I think it’s time for a non-genre novel, and then I’ll dig back in when the time is right. That being said, I can’t wait to come back to the world of Hyperion, and see what new terrors await these fantastic characters.