Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan
Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan is a special book. Not only because of its history of origin (being a Kickstarter that got over $30.000 instead of the needed $3.000, a sign of the trust readers put into the author), or because it is so vastly different than his Riyria Revelations books. Rather, the quality of the book comes from the wonderful story of an average guy going on the adventure of his life, struggling to find what happiness he can still get. A broken soul looking for salvation. The rest didn’t matter that much. It felt fulfilling enough to watch Ellis stumble through the new world. New possibilities open up for him in places he’d have never looked before.
The story is about Ellis Rogers, a rather unremarkable man all in all, if you don’t take into account that he build a working time machine. Diagnosed with a terminal illness and nothing left to live for, he makes the biggest and most dangerous decision of his life. He builds a time machine and travels to the future to find a cure for his illness, leaving behind a cold marriage and a dead son. Now, I don’t like time travelling. Going back and forth, changing the past, present, and future doesn’t work for me. Hollow World’s theory does. It actually doesn’t really matter how the protagonist gets to the future, because only that he does is important, but Michael J. Sullivan’s explanation for his time travel works for me. His theory for time travel is very interesting to read.
Ellis arrives at a world that is vastly different than he’d imagined, and different than common scenarios I’ve read for the future. I liked the author’s futuristic vision a lot. It seems plausible and is as such more fearsome than something unlikely. While it does seem like a utopia at first, it is not a world I’d want to live in. It is a paradise that takes important things from the humans, things I’d not readily give up, even for a place such as Hollow World. The oppressive feeling of the world only grows the more you learn about it and its inhabitants. That feeling is enhanced by the guide Ellis meets shortly after arriving in the future. This second character complements the protagonist and the story circles around these two, their relationship, and their investigation. This character grew as dear to me as Ellis and they are one awesome pair for such ordinary people.
The history of the time between Ellis’ starting point and his arrival in the future is introduced carefully. The reader’s and Ellis’ hunger to know what initiated the changes is satisfied with good explanations at the right time. The setting is interesting and contributes to the feeling of reality the story possesses. I could see such a change happen, especially since the triggers that made the change in the world and mankind necessary in Hollow World are real fears we have to face in the present. It connects our reality strongly to the reality of Hollow World. This makes it easy to accept Michael J. Sullivan’s vision and put yourself into the shoes of Ellis Rogers.
This story is nearly devoid of any action in the sense of what his Riyria Revelations series features. There is action in it, mostly near the end, but I think this part of the story could have been cut with not much lost. The antagonist and his scheme is the part I thought the least interesting and the only part I didn’t like so much. Even with Hollow World at stake, the tension couldn’t get close to the tension created through Ellis Rogers alone. The story could have been just an average guy searching for happiness and something to live for. That would have been enough for me, because Ellis is a guy you want to find joy and purpose. A man fighting the cold world all alone. So easy to see yourself as that man too. Sometimes you think Ellis will give up, and I found myself anxiously reading onwards, hoping he’d get up again, that he’d struggle again. That introduced much more tension than the intrigue and the danger looming over Hollow World.
Not to mention that Ellis has to fight with himself. Not literally, of course, but rather that he struggles to accept things his upbringing made him view as wrong. While he leaves a painful past behind, the future is not the safe harbor he’d hoped it’d be. And a broken man doesn’t just reassemble himself. Healing takes time, and sometimes the cure comes from places you’d never expect. That is something Ellis has to learn, and his growth throughout the book is beautiful to behold.
The protagonist offers you a seat besides him, to watch the story unfold slowly, and I’ve taken that seat readily. You’ll either do the same, or get lost in the measured pace. It is a book that has the potential to split its readership. I can see people loving it as much as I did, or hating it with the same passion. I want to give you one word of warning though: Don’t expect something remotely similar to the Riyria Revelations series. It is not. It doesn’t try to be similar, which for this story is a very good choice. It is vastly different and I think it is the greatest book Michael J. Sullivan has written to this day.
What does one say to conclude a review of such a book? I’m not sure I can find the right, the fitting ending, as I wasn’t sure I could find the words to describe the feelings the books inspired in me. I enjoyed it tremendously, that is the truth. As was that some things annoyed me. What I can do, what the book deserves, is to ask you to take a look yourself. Buy it when you need something slow, something nice, something to make you feel sad and happy in equal amounts.