A sequel to Simmons’s Ilium (2003) offers up the Trojan War along with elements from The Tempest, The Time Machine, Victorian poets and pop SF.
Ilium ended with the Greek and Trojan heroes allied against the Olympian gods, advanced space-going robots called moravecs aiding the human side. Meanwhile, in a different reality, a lovely but decadent human civilization is under attack from its feral former servants, the robotlike voynix. A third plot strand now updates the conflict between the sorcerer Prospero, Caliban and Caliban’s monstrous god Setebos. And the revived 20th-century American scholar Hockenberry attempts to chronicle the events while making love to volatile Helen of Troy. Simmons brings each subplot to a boil and spins off sub-subplots about Achilles’ love for a dead Amazon queen, Odysseus’ voyage to the alternate Earth with the moravecs, the arrival of Setebos and his minions in what was once Paris, etc. Everything comes together into a solid adventure story, with all the mysteries explained in respectably up-to-date SF terms. At the same time, Simmons adopts the device of having his characters quote freely from Homer, Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning, Proust and a host of other sources that liberal arts majors can have fun spotting. The author often gives his borrowings an ironic twist—as when Odysseus quotes Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to a classical scholar who half-recognizes the poem, or when Prospero objects to playing himself in a production of The Tempest, not wanting to memorize so many lines. Homeric tags alternate with tough-guy street talk, and several of the moravec scientists turn out to be Star Trek fans. Simmons’s gift for vivid description is evident throughout, as well. He effectively combines a serious subject, ironic perspective, strong action and believable (if not always sympathetic) characters.
Ambitious, witty, moving: Simmons at his best.