Hollow World is a slice of good old-fashioned science fiction. Sullivan deliberately harkens back H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Like Wells, Sullivan has crafted a story of time travel that is almost entirely uninterested in the mechanics of time travel. There are no paradoxes, no clever time travel shenanigans. Time travel is merely a means to an end that allows Sullivan to explore what he’s really interested in: society and what it means to be human.
The main character, Ellis Rodgers, is a dying man. His marriage is in ruins and he is racked by guilt over his son’s suicide for reasons that eventually become apparent. He has also built a working time machine in his garage. His plan is simple—leave his crumbling life behind and travel to the future where a cure might be found. The theory is sound; the time machine works, but Rodgers finds himself in the far future in a seeming utopia called Hollow World. Here there is no death, no disease, no hunger, no want. There hasn’t been a crime in centuries. Everyone is genetically engineered. Everyone looks the same. There are no men or women.
It is a familiar set up, but Sullivan cleverly avoids the usual traps. Hollow World would commonly be depicted as a utopia, or more accurately a dystopia with a terrible secret at its heart. Sullivan refreshingly depicts a future society that is neither. It is simply a society like any other, different, but not without its flaws. The problems of modern society have been solved but replaced with others. This observation makes all the world building seem fresh and more realistic. Humans change, societies shift, but we aren’t heading towards paradise or hell, just more of the same.
The world building and exploration of the setting are the strongest parts of the novel. The plot is largely predictable and the climax anticlimactic. Rodgers, however, is a well-drawn character. His relationship with Pax, an idiosyncratic denizen of the future, is touching. Their closeness and mutual understanding form the heart of the novel.
Hollow World is a fast paced, well written, and delightful read. Michael J. Sullivan has crafted one of my favorite science fiction novels of the past few years.
**Received copy from NetGalley for review