Dan Simmons Writing Well

As I recently became a fan of Dan Simmons (sorry, it took me a while to get to Hyperion), I was drifting around his website, and had a look through his Writing Well columns:


(I’m not sure if the ‘welll’ typo is an in-joke or not). Anyway, it’s an interesting series, proclaiming the great and the good, and poking the derivative. Personally though, I loved the one on “the author photo” (March 2007).

Fantastic site, thanks nanikore!

Thanks for sharing this. It is very interesting and informative - I’m reading it now. I’ve never read any Simmons, although I have Hyperion and Ilium on my bookshelf (I bought Hyperion mainly because I read that it was loosely arranged after The Canterbury Tales and I love Chaucer). However, I have to say that I am finding his tone - although the advice beneath is very useful - rather arrogant and derisory. I have just been informed, for instance, that I “have not read widely enough or well enough to consider becoming a writer” simply because I haven’t read A Fairwell To Arms. That’s right - no matter how many hundreds of other classics (including works of Hemingway) I may have read over the past fifteen or twenty years, I am too stupid and uneducated to try writing because I have not read the exact same classics and great literature that Mr Simmons has. I read that bit out to my other half a moment ago and she said: “What an arse.” Based on this sort of comment, I have to agree.

Thanks again!
All the best,


I think I liked it because he comes out with blunt comments like that, (and a few passages on a dislike for point of view switching in The Da Vinci Code) which many dance around for fear of offending. At least he voices that opinion.

For his books, specifically Hyperion, I enjoyed the first two (they’re one book really), and yes, it’s rather Canterbury Tales in format and moral points in many ways. Sometimes you get the feeling he goes into old poetic history and style just to prove he’s researched it, but at least it gives it a flavour and feel that many other SF novels don’t have. I like using goodreads.com, and was surprised on there that people often liken this to Dune, but aside from it being SF and it being long, I don’t quite get the comparison.

As for Hemingway. I thought he was OK :wink:


I should add, that had he quoted a passage from classic literature that I knew and then announced that if you didn’t know it you weren’t qualified to write, I would have nodded in sage agreement, of course. So I’m an arse, too. (But most people here know that already.)

I have continued reading his articles and they are very informative. I’m quite excited about the instalment I’m about to read on Flaubert - I only read Madame Bovary very recently and it is now possibly my favourite book, supplanting The Brothers Karamazov, which I never thought could be done. So I’m interested in what Dan Simmons has to say about his style.

(Also, I notice that he has a picture of, and mentions, R.H. Blyth in one of the instalments. I love R.H. Blyth and am always happy to see him mentioned somewhere.)

All the best,

I’ve read quite a bit of Simmons’ fiction and generally enjoy it a great deal. They are smart and literary and usually dashing good tales. I also enjoy the fact that he writes in so many genres. My first exposure to him was a mystery adventure starring Ernest Hemingway and taking place in Cuba during WWII – The Crook Factory is the title. I then sought out the Hyperion novels. The first two are really science fiction classics; while the second two are less successful, they are still entertaining. Simmons has also written a series of really, really hard-boiled novels featuring p.i. Joe Kurtz. If you’re a fan of this type of novel, you’ll love them (I think there are three so far). I guess Simmons started writing horror fiction, which he continues today, but I’m not a fan of that genre, so have not read any.

As for Illium and Olympus, these are magnificently ambitious novels and quite fun to read. I felt a little disappointed with Olympus, as it didn’t seem to really pull things together very satisfyingly. Still, they are both quite enjoyable – I especially like Simmons’ Flaubert-quoting robot.

Then there is his web site. It is great that he is willing to share his thoughts about writing, but I agree with Keith that he comes across as condescending and arrogant. I stopped reading his entries a few years ago when he wrote what I considered an inflamatory piece of short fiction about Islam – essentially arguing that if we don’t beat them into submission now we’ll regret it in the future. That just didn’t go over well with me.

He mentions The Crook Factory in the articles. I am ploughing ahead with them, and they are interesting and full of wisdom, despite the hubris.

I will say this, though - I may not have read a particular passage that Simmons considers a requirement, but I do know how to punctuate parentheses - Simmons apparently does not. I thought it was a typo at first, but it is consistent. He complains about the “house style” of publishers and editors, but many readers may be thankful to the editor who has saved them from the sentence whose ending punctuation has been lost in a parenthetical…

But I’m just being bitchy now. :slight_smile: All the same, those who live in glass houses… Oh, wait, he’s a respected, published author. I’ll shut up now.

All the best,

  1. His “qualifications” are as much luck as anything.
  2. Fame and fortune does not excuse inaccuracy or flagrant attitude justifying error.
  3. Since when have you not been published and respected? The difference is that your work comes in a dmg.

Funny you mention that. Because I forwarded Keith’s post to Dan Simmons for comment, and he replied:




Some obscure reference to programming punctuation that clearly didn’t make much sense. To me or anyone else. Serves me right for functioning on so little sleep.

Tomorrow I will read another article on his page and respond with some pointed on-topic discussion to make up for it.

No, what I mean is, I do keep my curly brackets on separate lines, even though it is not the custom of most Cocoa developers. :slight_smile:

- (void)thisMethod:(id)isHowI
	[do it];
	for ( ... )
- (void)thisMethod:(id)isHowMostCocoaDevelopers {
	[do it];

	for ( ...) {


Anyway, the Simmons stuff is still useful. And I did enjoy the Flaubert bit, just because I like reading about Flaubert and his rambunctiousness.

All the best,

I didn’t have time to go and check your code before I made my stupid comment. If I had, I would have just switched what I said. Maybe I should have just said “the right lines”.

I would recommend Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion which are actually one long book. Dan Simmons is sort of a genre writer with literary leanings. His last couple of books—The Terror, Drood—can be loosely categorized as historical fiction as well as is the forthcoming Black Hills. I really liked The Terror although it tends to meander in places. Haven’t read Drood yet, although I’ve already read Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood in preparation. A Winter Haunting remains one of my favorites.

Recommended author.


Second the recommendation, but do buy both books at once. Otherwise you will find the ending of Hyperion extremely frustrating.

Endymion and Rise of Endymion are set in the same universe and are also good. They should also be purchased as a set.


Contrary to most readers of the quartet, I actually liked Endymion/Rise of Endymion better than the first two books; that could, however, be because I’d just recently finished a course on Romanticism and the ideas in those two books dovetail so well with the ideas of the Romantic writers that I fell in love, especially with the concluding chapters. Probably makes sense, as the series is based on Keats’ unfinished Hyperion Cantos.

I recently re-read them; still love them. Oddly enough, I can’t get into any of his other books.