Hollow World ~ Michael J. Sullivan

  • Cover of Michael J. Sullivan's Hollow WorldTitle:  Hollow World
  • Author:  Michael J. Sullivan
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World. 

Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations.

Review:  I freely admit that I loved Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and I was excited to find this new and different novel up on NetGalley for a review. I snapped it up and the ideas it presents have been racing through my brain ever since.

Hoping to find a cure for his illness, Ellis plans to jump ahead 200 years. Instead, he actually jumps ahead 2000 years. What he finds when he gets there is . . . grass. Fearing he has traveled to a time where he has the world to himself, and knowing he didn’t bring the proper tools to forge shelter for himself, he follows the river to see what he can find. What he finds is a murder – and a bunch of naked people who all look identical.

As I read this book, the voice in my head sounded very much like a performance of The Time Machine by Leonard Nimoy and John De Lancie I heard years ago. The same kind of eerie, echoing music played in the background of my head as Ellis slowly progresses through the world by himself. It seemed fitting. Even when he finds others, I still had that sound track echoing through my brain.

There isn’t a lot of action in this story – and what does happen does so in short spurts and it really isn’t until that last few chapters that things start moving at a break neck pace. So, there was no sense of urgency as I read but, rather, a sense of peace. It wasn’t a book that urged me to turn the page to see what happened next, yet I couldn’t put it down either. Instead of action, what we have here is a bunch of thought provoking nuances. And, make me think it did.

It also isn’t your typical dystopian world where one group has enslaved another. Instead, the world has evolved via science – to make everyone identical, because that is what was best for society. Or so it thought. And, because global warming has decimated the planet, they have all moved into the core of the earth – hence, Hollow World. Now, the science involved here, in time travel, in forming identical people, in ‘hollowing’ out the world, is not quite believable. But, you aren’t supposed to believe, you are supposed to accept and think ‘what if?’ And, that is something Mr. Sullivan does quite well – make you think.

In this world, there is no religion. No religion, no war, and no love. (Every stop to think how many wars are brought on by differences in religion?) Everyone is identical, so there are no comparisons. Everyone has a ‘maker’ (and how this comes about is very reminiscent of the Linux world) so everyone can have anything one wants. There are no genders or races or castes, no reason to be at odds with each other. So, what do people do? They seek out individuality – the seek tattoos and clothing and other things to make them stand out from the crowd. They seek new ideas (read religion and war) to advance civilization. I mean, really, where is there to grow?

The characters very search for individuality and God made me think about everything in my life. As a Christian, it made me seek God. But, both sides are presented here. There is no club over your head going – believe in God! Or You are a ninny if you believe in God! It is up to the reader to arrive at his own conclusion.

Love. Love is also an interesting thought process here. With no genders, how and who do people love? (There is an ‘app’ for sex . . .) Why do we love? How do we love? What is love? It made me appreciate the people in my life and appreciate what I have – even though I would be quite poor next to these folks.

I don’t believe there is any greater complement to a story than “It made me think.” I continue to adore Michael J. Sullivan. I adore his writing style. I adore his work ethic. I adore his publishing stance. I think he is a ground breaker and a genuinely good man. None of this made me like this book any more, but it made me more willing to pick it up – something outside of his typical book. I enjoyed the fact that instead of bloating the series he has already written for monetary gain, he sought readers and all of us stepped outside of our comfort zone to share in this new story. I hope that this will encourage other authors to come up with new worlds and new series instead of dragging down the ones we already love. Not that it isn’t possible to continue series in a good and polished manner, but an author should not be forced to do so either.

I give this one a solid 4 stars. It was an intriguing story in a different style written in a soothing manner. It is not action packed and there is no sense of urgency but, rather, a story full of ideas that will increase the wonder of the world around you.

To Say Nothing of the Dog ~ Connie Willis

  • Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
  • Author: Connie Willis
  • Series: Oxford Time Travel #2
  • Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  In her first full-length novel since her critically acclaimed “Doomsday Book” Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, once again visits the unpredictable world of time travel. But this time the result is a joyous journey into a past and future of comic mishaps and historical cross-purposes, in which the power of human love can still make all the difference.

At once a mystery novel, a time-travel adventure, and a Shakespearean comedy, “To Say Nothing of the Dog” is a witty and imaginative tale of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and a chaotic world in which the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line, and the secret to the universe truly lies “in the details.”

This was my first Connie Willis. The novel was a charming discovery, and I’m definitely going to read more of this writer. 

The book is hard to summarize. It touches on a number of interlinked themes, but the main one, in my opinion, is history and its redundancy. We all know about the butterfly effect, but in Willis’s fictional universe, it’s almost impossible to change history, which tends to repair itself whether people interfere or not. A troubling concept, isn’t it? Does anything we do make a difference?

But Willis didn’t write a philosophical tractate on the topic. Instead, she picked a deep, solemn idea and transformed it into an irreverent caper, as if saying: ‘Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.’

The novel follows the protagonist Ned Henry, a historian at the Oxford time travel department in the middle of the 21st century. Disoriented and sleep-deprived from his time-lag syndrome (too many time jumps in too short a period cause the condition), he ‘drops’ to the Victorian era to recuperate. His boss also asks him to perform a small service for the department: return a cat, which another historian, Ned’s coworker Verity Kindle, smuggled inadvertently from 1888. The smuggled cat might create, or has already created, an incongruity in the time-space continuum, which might result in the changing of history. The department head can’t allow such a disaster to happen.

Together, the two young historians embark on a romp to fix the possible incongruity. Along the way, they fall in love, meet a set of quirky secondary characters, and embroil themselves in a number of hilarious situations, like a séance with a faux medium. Love and history collide, the past and the future mix and match, and the cat comes out the winner.

Actually, I might suggest the alternative title for this story: Much Ado about the Cat.

The author has a knack for inventing fanciful names for her characters. The heroine, Miss Verity Kindle, is erudite, kind, and utterly adorable. In my mind, she is associated vaguely with my Kindle (you may laugh, but I adore my Kindle), although Kindle hadn’t been invented yet when Willis wrote this book. Maybe she traveled into the future…

Another character, the time travel department’s benefactress Lady Schrapnell, is just as she sounds: loud, unstoppable, and loaded. You don’t want to stand in her way. And of course, the cat. Her name, Princess Arjumand, meows for itself.

The narrative is beautiful and effortless, enriched by piling absurdities, extensive and slightly anglicized vocabulary, and the writer’s wicked humor. An amusing and delightful read.

The only problem I could see with this book, and why I dropped a star from its rating, is that it’s too wordy, especially in the middle chapters. I was drowning in the flood of extraneous details, historical references, and poetic quotations, and I wondered: what was the connection of all this verbiage to the story? Maybe the author, like her heroes, suffered from time-lag? She describes inconsequential chatter as one of its symptoms. The book wouldn’t have suffered at all if it was 300 pages instead of over 400. In fact, it would’ve been tighter and more focused. On the other hand, its very dishevelment might be part of its charm.