Hollow World is the first book I’ve had sent to me directly from an author with a request for an honest review. Michael J. Sullivan sent me an email a few months ago asking if I’d like to receive an advance copy of the book in exchange for a review around the time the book was supposed to be released. I read the synopsis he had sent along and decided the book looked interesting enough, so I told him to drop a copy in the mailbox and to pick a date he would like the review to be published. As it turns out, the book made it into the hands of readers a bit earlier than he originally planned with an early release by Amazon and the like, but I stuck with the date he had asked for anyways.
As it turns out, I really enjoyed Hollow World. It’s not a long book, Amazon lists it as being 416 pages in length, but it does not feel that long as you read. The narrative is crisp, moving ahead right when it needs to in order to keep the attention of the reader and avoid the pitfall of getting too verbose about mundane things. The cast of characters is kept to a reasonable number, really just a handful, and that helps to make each interaction feel meaningful and significant. Some books get bogged down in supporting characters, but Hollow World keeps the attention on those that matter most, Ellis Rogers and Pax, the two central figures to the story.
I feel like Hollow World fills a unique position in the genre of science fiction. The story begins with a classic time travel element as Ellis Rogers uses a homemade time machine in his garage to travel into the future in search of a possible cure for his terminal illness. When he arrives in the future he discovers an Earth where nature has retaken the surface and society lives almost entirely underground. Known as Hollow World, the massive underground city is home to amazing technology, artificial intelligence systems, and a human race devoid of gender. All of this falls into the typical science fiction realm, but over the course of the book, the technology seems to take a back seat to the story Michael J. Sullivan wants to tell. On the surface that sounds counter-intuitive to the idea of science fiction, but it worked perfectly. The technology is put to use when it needs to be to further the action, but otherwise the author lets the story shine through instead of using technology gimmicks.
Hollow World also deals with a lot of other things not typically found as major themes in science fiction. Themes such as homosexuality, individuality, liberal vs. conservative viewpoints, religion, and many more. It was refreshing to see a science fiction novel deal with some of these themes head on instead of side-lining them as an afterthought behind sweeping action scenes and superior technology.
Ellis Rogers and Pax are two very well-conceived characters that I really connected with. Pax was my favorite of the two, but I think that was because I spent most of the book trying to put together all the details about what made him so special compared to the other genetically engineered humans in the Hollow World. I enjoyed Pax’s approach to plot events and loved the reveal of his secret towards the end. The time travel was also refreshing because it was not bogged down in minute details. Ellis found some research, had the educational background to see where the work had gone wrong, make the fix, and travel through time. Sullivan did not waste a lot of time on the intricacies of time travel, rather he used it as a mechanism to get the story moving and that was all.
Hollow World was a pleasant surprise as I read it and I’m glad I took the time to give it a try. I read a lot of mainstream science fiction and fantasy and often begin to feel like I’m reading the same thing over and over, but Hollow World broke me out of that cycle for a few days, which was nice. I would be very interested in reading a follow-up to this book, or maybe another book set in the same universe that isn’t a direct sequel.