Hollow World was a novel that I was really excited about reading. I mean, one of my favorite fantasy authors, Michael J Sullivan, penned it, and it promised to be a science fiction novel in the mold of H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine, which is one of my childhood favorites. So, all the stars seemed to be lined up for me to thoroughly enjoy this one. Unfortunately, the novel and I quickly took a dislike to one another, and while I did finish it, I cannot say that I enjoyed the experience.
The plot of this novel centers on one Ellis Rogers: an ordinary guy who seems to have a good life. He is married, has a comfortable job, and even has a best friend named Warren, who has been along for life’s rocky road since high school. But though everything seems great with Ellis’ world from the outside, things are not so rosy within. First, he and his wife hardly have anything to do with one another anymore. (Years before, their only child committed suicide and that loss was so devastating that it has become a wedge holding them apart.) Second, Ellis has just discovered that he has a terminal illness and that he has only six months to live!
In a situation similar to Ellis, most people would be paralyzed with fear by this diagnosis and struggle with what to do with their short time remaining. Should they submit to grueling medical treatments that have little hope of saving their life? Maybe, head off to finally complete all those childhood adventure that are on their bucket list? Or perhaps, they would just patch things up with their loved ones? However, Ellis doesn’t go through all these myriad emotional choices, because as soon as he gets the diagnosis he knows exactly what he intends to do: fire up the time machine in his garage and head off into the future. Sure, he doesn’t know if it will actually work, and sure, it is a one way trip, and sure, he has no idea what he will find there, but there really is no good reason that Ellis can see for not giving it a try. So without a word of goodbye to his wife, our middle aged adventure heads off into the future to find a cure and begin his new life!
As he speeds off into the unknown, Ellis has his own perception of what the future will be like. Flying cars, robots, and all those other Jetson-esque things, most likely. But what he finds is something so different that it shocks his "modern" twenty-first century sensibilities. Before he can get a grip on how different the world is, however, he finds himself stumbling into the middle of a murder. Something that is unheard of in this peaceful world. Quickly, Ellis finds himself helping to uncover the identity and motive of the murderer. Something he is asked to do because only he is qualified for the job, since he is the only person alive who has ever experienced a murder – even if his experience was through murder mystery novels. Add to this that Ellis soon begins to realize that his decision to time travel was the catalyst for the whole social upheaval in this strange world, and you can see that Ellis desperately wishes to keep what might be heaven from being destroyed!
After reading that description, I am sure this novel sounds very interesting to many of you, and no doubt, a few of you might wonder how I could have given it only two stars. In response, I must admit that I wanted to love this book, and as I finished the first few chapters, I tried very hard to convince myself that this was going to be another of Mr. Sullivan’s enjoyable rides. However, the simple fact is that Hollow World was just not for me.
To expound why I did not love this novel, let me establish something up front: I really, really do not like stories that are political in nature or preachy about social issues. Whether that is a religious novel disguising itself as a fantasy tale or a social activist work that markets itself as an adventure story, I am just instantly turned off by morality plays. Sure, they were fine when I was a teenager, but now I really do not enjoy them. The simple fact of the matter is that I read for escapism reasons: I want to be transported away from the present world with all its modern sensibilities and endless debate regarding political and social issues and experience for a few hours something new and wondrous that causes the present to fade away. So obviously, my destination of choice is not going to be a future earth where classic religion beliefs and modern sensibilities clashing to see which is more palatable and correct.
In summation, Hollow World is Mr. Sullivan’s time machine social commentary. It extrapolates of what heaven is, what is god, how mankind can find utopia, and what forms love can come in. Whether that type of story will be to your liking is based upon your personal reading tastes and whether you enjoy modern, morality play. If, however, you are searching for a grand adventure tale or an escapist vehicle, this one is probably not for you.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.