NOTE: I was one of the backers on Kickstarter for Hollow World, hence how I have been able to obtain the book before its release in January. This does not affect the content of the review in any way, as I aim to be as unbiased as possible in every way. But I thought it was worth mentioning up front, rather than face accusations afterwards.
Date started: August 10th
Date finished: August 17th
Hollow World is one of those old style science fiction books I never really expected to see again. At least, not quite so soon. It harkens back to the spirit of authors like H.G Wells, in a time where the genre is mostly space opera and military sci-fi. Apparently, publishers agreed, and passed on the book despite liking it.
It’s the story of Ellis Rogers, a man who, to put it bluntly, is down on his luck. He’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness, his son has tragically died, and his marriage is falling apart. All he really has is his depressing nights out with best friend and former high school jock Warren Eckard. Oh, and a time machine in his garage.
To Hollow World’s credit, it doesn’t mess around. We came looking for the future stuff, and it delivers almost straight away. I’m pretty sure the hand wavey pseudoscience explanation for the time machine working is unfeasible, but once Ellis started exploring Earth of the future, I stopped caring. Pretty much as soon as he arrives, he witnesses a murder, and meets an arbitrator (kind of like a counsellor/cop) named Pax who teams with him to help solve it.
For the most part, the plot works. It rattles along at a solid pace, and I never felt like I was too far from some revelation or other to keep me turning pages. But at the same time, it’s really there to serve the setting. And it’s here Hollow World excels. You see, Ellis has travelled quite a long way into the future, and humanity has evolved and augmented itself in a lot of interesting ways. I don’t want to give them away here, but the parts of the story where Ellis is just being introduced to various ‘new’ technologies and concepts were the parts that kept me enraptured.
That’s not to say the character work is bad of course, it’s not. Ellis’s interactions with everyone around him are natural and read well, including his friendship with Pax, tragic loveless conversations with his wife Peggy, and an almost high school rivalry with old friend Warren. Towards the latter part of the book, there were some revelations that left me reeling and slack jawed.
But the highlight for me in terms of characters has to be Alva. She is sort of like an AI construct who is the housekeeper of Pax’s home. She’s sort of like what you’d get if you made the Enterprise computer manic and excited. She was always cheerful and eager to please, and her interactions with Ellis were honestly a joy to read.
I very much enjoyed Hollow World. It’s not entirely perfect. I was a bit put out that everyone in the future just sort of accepted it as gospel that Ellis was a time traveller, despite time travel not being common. And, though I liked that the story got straight into things, I did wonder how cold Ellis had to be, given that he left his wife with barely a second thought (though this was addressed a bit later on). Despite these small flaws, Hollow World is the sort of big idea science fiction I enjoy reading, and I’m glad it found its way to a release, despite publishers not biting.
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