Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: Hollow World - Michael J. Sullivan

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on November 18, 2014. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

Hollow World - Michael J. Sullivan
Tachyon Publications
384 Pages

It seems today that in Hollywood and on television that reboots or re-tellings are the newest fad. Occasionally, there's an interesting take on an old favorite, such as the "Tin Man" twist on "Wizard of Oz." More often than not, we get a hackneyed mess that detracts from the original vision, like the Star Trek reboot, or the abominable remake of “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  Now it seems that the reboot and revisioning epidemics have spread to books.

H.G. Wells is one of the all-time greatest science fiction writers. Period. He was writing at a time when most of his ideas were only a part of the imagination, and is considered the father of the science fiction genre.  His novel, The Time Machine, published first in 1895, is a timeless classic.  Holding such a prominent place in the pantheon of SF writers, many newcomers attempt to emulate the master.

Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan is a perfect example of that emulation as well as, unfortunately, hackneyed revisionism.  The preview on the jacket of the book showed a lot of promise, which is why it came home from the library with me.  The beginning of the book even lived up to its publisher’s hype.

Sullivan’s work is a modern re-telling of The Time Machine, complete with it’s own version of Morlock and Eloi. It’s set in modern-day Detroit, where the protagonist, Ellis Rogers, is a middle-aged man in a loveless marriage.  Somehow, in his spare time, he has built a time machine in his garage with milk crates and a lawn chair.

The initial character development of Rogers is fantastic.  We learn all about his marriage, the loss of a son through suicide, and the unfaithfulness of his wife with his best friend.  He hides his terminal diagnosis from his friends and his wife. He is a sad man, looking to escape from the doldrums of his life and start fresh somewhere else. Actually, somewhen else, where a cure for his cancer would likely be available.  He sets his machine for 200 years. However, just like in the original, his plans go awry and he ends up much farther in the future.

When he awakes in future Detroit, nothing is recognizable. The city has returned to wilderness with only the iconic clock tower of the Henry Ford Museum remaining. It is here the story takes a turn and begins to suffer.  There are still groups of people, exactly like the original story. In this version, the surface dwellers represent the Morlocks while the subterranean people represent the peaceful Elois.

The first thing Rogers observes is a murder. Among the Hollow Worlders, murder is a complete unknown. All the people living below ground have evolved into sexless beings who are all connected digitally through neural implants.  It’s like having Google in your head. With everyone able to know everything you do, crime is virtually non-existent. Rogers is eyed with suspicion as the timing of his arrival and the murder coincided.

It is among the surface-dwellers, people labeled “Darwins” by the Hollow Worlders, that Rogers finds his greatest surprise and challenge.  He struggles with the information that is presented to him and must figure out how to balance what he’s learned in his old life with what he’s learned in this new future.  The very future of the planet rides on his choices. Simultaneously, he attempts to deal with the fact that he will never see his wife again while processing the fact that he finds himself attracted to one of the Hollow Worlders, an advanced human who is neither male nor female.

As I stated before, the premise of the story was well thought out.  The beginning of the story was very well done. The development of Ellis Rogers makes the reader empathize with him as he makes a decision to turn his life upside-down.  Unfortunately, Rogers is the only character who gets developed. The Darwins and Hollow Worlders are faint caricatures of the Morlocks and Elois and never evolve.

The biggest positive for the plot is that it moves right along.  There are not a lot of extra words to make the scene. The writer’s flow makes it an enjoyable read as far as actually just reading.  The rest of the plot falls into predictability just after Rogers finds himself in the future. Sullivan has added enough modernity to Wells’ original to make it more relevant to today’s reader’s but the storyline itself is almost a perfect imitation.  While I have no problems with imitation, there’s not enough of the new author in this tale to make it stand alone from Wells’ The Time Machine.

Reading this book, I can tell you that Michael J. Sullivan is a talented writer and I look forward to seeing what he can do with a storyline of his own.  His other book reviews have all shown high praises for its fantasy content. I hope the next science fiction work he completes will be an engaging and fun novel. For Hollow World, it just needed to be more Sullivan and less Wells.

Craig Bacon is a fan of the classics and of later visions of the same. The potential can be limitless.