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The complexity appears atop a classic chassis, the quest plot. Indeed, the novel's first major event amounts to a desperate princess rescue. Always in danger, the cast assembles and sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to defeat the evil empire and redeem humanity. We've seen it before because it works; these elements consistently attract attention. Simmons seems comfortable and even playful with such conventions. The directed narrative takes physical presence in the story in the form of Tethys, a river winding from world to world through a network of portals. Simmons employs scarcely limited technology as plot device without shame.
Raul, the protagonist, fulfills his everyman role satisfactorily. Though Simmons writes him well, he could be any one of the innumerable plucky and capable heroes that appear across genres. It's the other characters that stand out. A priest and soldier in the setting's twisted Catholic Church, Father Captain Federico de Soya struggles with the morality of his actions and his commanders. Young Aenea comes across as a delightfully measured and human savior figure, while the android A. Bettik epitomizes stoicism and service.
As in the earlier books, Simmons treats the science fiction armory with respect and thoughtfulness. Raul applies commonsense military principles to his rifle of stupendous range and other deadly toys. While surely a minor concern for most readers, it's an excellent break from the bumbling warriors who appear in so much visual fiction. Basic knowledge of warfare goes a long way toward making a space age setting more believable. As Simmons correctly shows, standard imagined technologies produce awe-inspiring individual soldiers if employed intelligently.
More than before, Simmons addresses the role and nature of organized religion in Endymion. Believing Catholics such as Captain de Soya have to confront the hopelessly oppressive policies of the existing hierarchy in the Church. Aenea endeavors to create a spiritual alternative or cure. Interactions between these two characters yield a provocative exploration of the subject. The machinations of god-like AIs simultaneously confuse and enrich the debate.
In conclusion, Simmons offers us a chance to enjoy both the visceral thrill of over-the-top action and the more enduring pleasure of character drama and philosophy. He weaves everything together expertly, demonstrating that star-spanning epics and quality literature aren't mutually exclusive.
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