Muse of Fire

April 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

museMuse of Fire by Dan Simmons


I’m not ashamed to admit that I often don’t get Dan Simmons. He’s a smart guy, with varied interests, and while he writes stories that can affect me like few other stories can (Hyperion), he also writes stories that go so far over my head that not even radar can find them. Muse of Fire is one of those latter stories.

I didn’t get much out of this novella, but I don’t know much about Shakespeare, either, and the major theme of this story is Shakespeare. Simmons presents a far-flung future where humankind has been more or less annihilated by aliens, which are now considered to be their gods. In this future is a troupe of actors, going from backwater planet to backwater planet, preserving and presenting the plays of Shakespeare to the handfuls of humans, most of them indentured servants to the aliens, left in the galaxy. At one performance, some of the aliens come to watch the troupe perform, and afterward, they are asked to perform a play for the aliens themselves. That’s the point where the story truly begins.

This is ostensibly a science fiction story — there are spaceships and aliens and planets, though presented without the usual science fiction cliches — but it’s mostly a philosophical treatise and an examination of Shakespeare’s plays. Simmons has studied Shakespeare long and hard, and it shows in this novella. He goes beyond the surface of the plays, talking about their messages and their meanings, and how they still speak truth, even 400 years after being written. He gives the plays meaning above and beyond humanity, wrapping all of human existence into the stories and words and the performances of this single troupe that tours the universe strictly to spread the word of Shakespeare, as if they’re passing along a religion. It’s informative and impressive, and like most of Simmons’ works, it will stay with you long after finishing the book.

What this book isn’t, though, is a good story. It’s hard to engage in it, it’s difficult to understand, and if you don’t know enough about Shakespeare going in, you’re likely to be lost amid what Simmons has to say about the plays. It’s also populated with uninteresting characters, none of whom, save the narrator, are developed. The only other character that gets more than just a passing mention is the female love-interest, and even then, she’s not described beyond being attractive and a good actor.

Muse of Fire is full of interesting ideas, but the ideas don’t make for an interesting story. I’m perfectly willing to accept that I didn’t get much out of the story because I didn’t have the proper context to put into it, but regardless, it didn’t resonate with me like Hyperion or even Phases of Gravity. In some parts, it was just plain dull. It’s definitely original, and it definitely has something to say, but it just wasn’t something that had much to say to me.

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