A Total Inability To Connect

Hollow World - Michael J. Sullivan Writing: 4.5
Story/Plot: 4
Depth/Detail: 4
Enjoyment: 5
Innovation(one-time rating): 5

(Mild spoilers below, but nothing to ruin the story)
MJS is an author who I truly, honestly enjoy. He isn't perfect, he doesn't write literary prose masterpieces, and he doesn't claim to. He writes books that make people like me, normal folks, feel good. He writes books with relateable characters, with funny and visceral dialogue, with events and plot twists that aren't always M. Night Shamalyan gaspers, but are still rewarding and fun and entertaining and pleasing. But MJS is the most accessible author in the damn world. He interacts with fans, responds to emails promptly, responds to tweets, facebook messages, reddit messages. He posts actual, useful content on websites for writers and perspective writers. He posts discussions that are worthwhile and thought provoking. He's a good guy who does good work and I respect him for it.

His Riyria Revelations took me a while to get into, but ended up being one of my favorite series. That, combined with his presence online, made me have no hesitation to jump in feet first when he posted about doing a Kickstarter to "pre-publish" his new speculative sci-fi piece. In the end, despite haters trying to detract from the accomplishment, he ended up getting the book published, and was extremely generous in the process. It isn't an "investment" when, in the end, I got a signed and dedicated trade paperback of the book, a handful of signed glossy bookmarks, a large high-quality print of the cover art (also signed), a handful of short stories to read, and a DRM-free advance of the story to consume before the paperback ships (the e-book was perfectly formatted and looked very well, for the record), for a measly $25. I pay that for some hardcover books alone. No big. I'm glad it worked out and I'm glad MJS got the chance to put this book out, further show that his fans will enjoy his work however it's presented, and encourage further forays into non-traditional books (for him).

On to the book itself - many adjectives to describe. Visceral. Haunting. Invigorating. Fascinating. Hollow World follows Ellis Rogers, a dying man who uses his MIT education to build a time machine with some milk crates and batteries and an ipad and some other stuff. So it makes zero sense, is completely impossible and is a stretch to say the least; but MJS even pokes fun at that later in the book, joking about how silly the entire process was. To his credit, he doesn't dwell on how silly that is too much, and focuses on building his world, his characters, and his plot, which have always been Mike's strengths. Ellis feels like a real person, making real decisions with real emotions. Warren, Ellis' only real friend, feels like an average Joe that we all know; that old-school, blue collar all-American. He's a walking cliche, but he works. He works because of what I just said - everyone knows this guy in real life. Everyone has met him and heard the types of things they spew and know the motivations and thought processes.

Ellis' time machine malfunctions, as expected, and rather than teleport him 200 years into the future (to escape his problems and find a cure for his illness), it teleports him 2000 years into the future. Into a world that has been through numerous apocalyptic events and lived to tell about it, become more technologically advanced, and humans have bred themselves into what could only be called human-like beings. They no longer have a sex, are all genetically similar, look similar - like grayish aliens with no hair, sexual organs, or identifiers. A race of similar people who are all struggling to find their own identity, make an image for themselves, feel different from the others. And all ultimately both failing and succeeding to do so. Ellis is seen as a spectacle, a "Darwin", a human from the past. The new humans have been bred out of violence, crime, hate, so he is met with an odd peace and fascination, rather than openly detained and interrogated. He struggles to cope with this new world, it's changes, while being guided by Pax, the first future human to find him, support him, and become his friend.

Pax takes him to Hollow World, where the earth's population now live. Underground, all over the world, easily traversed by teleportation units. Hollow World is climate controlled, designed by artists to feel serene, simulate the surface, which has been decimated and is unstable and dangerous. The people of Hollow World are essentially immortal due to technological advances, have no need for work due to their magical machines that make everything for them out of generic organic matter, such as rocks. They spend their lives trying to find fulfilling things to do, while having no crime, no murder, not even any police.

The story follows Ellis and Pax as they investigate a murder that Ellis witnesses upon finding the first human settling, eventually leading to find Warren, Ellis' best friend from 2014, has followed Ellis' instructions, built his own time machine, and had arrived on Hollow World years ahead of Ellis. Warren has become a gung-ho, all-American stereotype, who expresses his desire to cheat the system and create a new, All-2014 Human race on the surface, find a way to "create" a human female to repopulate like the bible says, etc. Ellis is put off but is unsure what to do, torn between his new friend in Pax and the serene Hollow World, free of violence, and his oldest friend, who suddenly showed up when Ellis felt alone and homesick. Warren has changed, however, he's different. He's violent, controlling, imperialistic. Ellis realizes that Warren isn't exactly his old self, and starts to wonder if Warren is really misguided, and is going in a bad direction.

He quickly realizes that this is the case, as Warren has essentially captured several Hollow Worlders and indoctrinated them, turning them essentially into slaves to do his bidding, which Ellis soon figures out involves the destruction of Hollow world, and it's 120+ million residents. Ellis is then torn between his oldest friend, who now kind of scares him, and his morals. It is an easy decision for Ellis, who feels a bit hopeless to stop Warren. Luckily, Dex returns at just the right time to assist him in warning the Hollow Worlders and helping to remove two of the nuclear devices that Warren had recovered from old-world monuments and reactivated. When they send people to remove the third and final device, several people return shot, revealing that Warren is guarding the final bomb with his hunting rifle - one of the only two guns available, the other in Ellis' possession. Ellis, of course, goes to confront Warren, and eventually ends up killing him with very little remorse.

The book is full of pseudo-philosophical bits, commentary on religion, on wars, on humanity, on relationships and equality. Some of it isn't exactly subtle, but the messages are good, and the story feels good. Any flaws you can pick out are easily overrode by the plot of the story, the characters, the overall feeling of the book. In the end, I just enjoyed reading it. It made me happy. I blew through it in a matter of hours, devouring the pages and loving the story, loving Ellis and Pax, loving the world that Sullivan created - "realistic" or not. That's kind of the point of sci-fi a bit, isn't it - a suspension of reality. Speculative. In the end, Hollow World hit the mark for me. The book and the entire publishing process have been a fun ride, and one I'm glad to be a part of, and glad to support Mike in his ventures. The book is going to be normally published next year in the spring, and I highly recommend people pick up a copy when it is released, and give this story a shot.