This was my final read during the Read-A-Thon, the book I spend the last hour and a half reading. It is novella-sized, just a little over 100 pages, and I wanted something that I could finish during that last stretch. Unfortunately, I forgot that you have to pay attention when you read a book by Dan Simmons, so I found myself re-reading passages that my sleepy brain did not understand the first time through. I did finish it by the end.
Reading Dan Simmons is always interesting - he loves to just drop you into the world that he has created for the story, and you have to read carefully so as to not miss any clues about what is going on. This book is no different. It is narrated by Wilbr, a 20 SEY old man (what is SEY, you ask? not sure, Simmons hardly ever outright explains things like that - if I had been less sleepy, I'm sure I would have figured it out) who is a member of a traveling Shakespeare troupe. They travel the galaxy on their ship, the Muse of Fire, performing for the human slaves on the various worlds that the human race can now be found on. All human are slaves, for the most part. There is no real culture or technology any more. There is religion, and obviously there is Shakespeare, but otherwise the human race exists only as drones working for the higher alien beings. The book begins when the Archons, the race of aliens that supervise the humans, request to see a performance of the troupe. This has never happened before. The group realizes they are being tested somehow, and in some way, the fate of the entire human race now rests in their hands.
One thing that you have to love about Simmons' books is that he loves literature, and so do his characters. Obviously Shakespeare is central to this story, and it is interesting how he juxtaposes the Bard's work with a future culture-less humanity. It makes you wonder how Shakespeare survived for so long in this future as it is. This book is really about the redemptive power of art, or literature, and it was a beautiful, comforting read.