The Big Idea: Ryk E. Spoor
Actions, as they say, have consequences. For Shadows of Hyperion, author Ryk E. Spoor gives us evidence of how true this saying really is, both for authors in their work, and for the characters and universes they create.
RYK E. SPOOR:
One of the major background events in the Arenaverse series, going all the way back to the first book Grand Central Arena and becoming progressively more important in Spheres of Influence and Challenges of the Deeps, is the Hyperion Project. Historically, the Hyperion Project was the work of a particular hobbyist SFG (Sim Focus Group) in the effectively post-scarcity civilization of 24th-century Earth. Using the advanced technology of that time, the Hyperion Project created a space station filled with virtual environments designed to do one thing: raise genetically-engineered constructs to be, as closely as possible, duplicates of fictional and mythological heroes. When a few of their creations figured out their worlds were fakes, this set in motion a series of events that led to the catastrophic destruction of the station, and ultimately to the imposition of laws that specifically forbid the kinds of things the Hyperion “researchers” did.
The few surviving “Hyperions” – the creations of these experiments – are, in various ways, superhuman, but only mildly so in most cases. Given that the technology in existence allows anyone to biomod or cybernetically enhance themselves, it’s not that great an advantage. But in the Arena it turns out that it is far more; in Challenges of the Deeps, Marc C. DuQuesne discovers that the Arena gives to the Hyperions the abilities they had in their original, fictional worlds, at least within the (very very large) capabilities of the Arena.
And this implies other possible problems, as one of the Hyperion survivors – Maria-Susanna – is a known murderer and clinically insane, and there are indications that – somehow – at least one of the AIs that served as one of the Hyperion villains might have found a way to evade the restrictions of the Arena against artificial intellects.
The Hyperion Project’s importance, and the number of interconnections of the various characters and events to that fifty-year-old mistake, had reached the point where I realized that they had to be confronted – and, to whatever extent possible, resolved. Hyperion’s existence, and the Arena’s unexpected and unexplained decision to provide the surviving Hyperions with the fictional abilities they had in their virtual worlds, has personal, tactical, and strategic implications of almost incalculable magnitude, much of it touching on one fearsome question: could someone – human or alien – duplicate the Hyperion Project, and thus be able to effectively make superhumans on demand?
Too many members of alien factions had clues to the existence and nature of Hyperion to allow this question to be ignored; technically humanity had made the decision not to allow any more Hyperions… but that decision was made before the realization that the project had produced beings capable of feats previously only see in fantastic fiction – psionic powers, magical spells, control of electricity, and more. Even if – as Ariane, Simon, and DuQuesne assume – there is no actual “magic” involved, the Arena’s “sufficiently advanced technology” might as well be magic.
So in Shadows of Hyperion, I began to bring together all of the disparate plot threads that connected the destiny of Humanity and the citizens of the Arena to Hyperion. This included the renegade AI named Doctor Alexander Fairchild, the consequences of the battles against the ur-Shadeweaver Vindatri and the invading Molothos, the ongoing effects of Sun Wu Kung’s spectacular victory in Challenge against the Vengeance, and what the Vengeance had learned in their protest against that victory, and the implied yet never previously demonstrated threat of Maria-Susanna… the literal “Mary-Sue” of one of the Hyperion designers.
At first, I have to admit I wasn’t sure how I was going to tie all of these things together. There were already other, not necessarily directly related, events ongoing that I couldn’t ignore (most obviously, the fact that while Dajzail of the Molothos might have agreed to establish peace with Humanity, plenty of his species would feel very differently and would consider it imperative to remove Dajzail as Leader), and there was so much about Hyperion that had only been hinted at; how could I address even half of these problems in one book?
After a couple of false starts, I realized that ultimately it was going to be a book about choices and consequences, and that the remnants of Hyperion would be a backdrop to all of the events, because Hyperion encapsulated all forms of good and bad decisions and consequences in one concentrated form. It was a horrific project, but one that, as DuQuesne had noted in an ironic quote, was “terrible, but great”. It offered Humanity a vast trump card… that would raise potentially deadly questions if revealed, and whose truth showed the monstrous side of Humanity’s nature.
Thus, I wanted all the major characters – human and otherwise – to confront the essential question of how far will you go? What advantage is worth compromising your integrity, betraying your ideals? And when you’ve broken your honor or your word and come face to face with the monster in the mirror, what do you do to make it right? Can you make it right, and if not right, what can you do to at least begin to make up for what you have done? Alternatively, faced by someone who has done the unthinkable but who may not be entirely lost, how do you deal with them? Can you, or should you, forgive? And if forgiveness is withheld, is tolerance still possible?
There is… a lot of stuff in Shadows of Hyperion, a lot of action, new characters, new locations. Yet in some ways I think this one is far more focused on the people of the Arena… partially because the event that really pulls everything together is a murder mystery, in the middle of the greater politics of the Arena. In the end, it comes down to motive, means, and opportunity… and consequences. The loss of a single citizen of the Arena will lead to alliances, betrayal, chaos, hundreds of deaths… and – just possibly – a better, brighter future, while the actions of a single villain will threaten all of the Arena… and change a race of monsters for the better.
And readers may finally begin to get a glimpse of what awaits at the end of the series, if they make the correct deductions about certain things they will see. Certain things that are, themselves, indicative of consequences for actions so far in the past that we cannot easily imagine it.