Hollow World—a Novel by Michael J. Sullivan

I’d received an advanced review copy from Michael J. Sullivan, but I paid for mine. I was one of the backers on Kickstarter. I’d briefly communicated with Mr. Sullivan before participating in his project. He assured me I’d like the protagonist after disclosing to him what I don’t like to read.

Hollow World cover

He was right, I did like Ellis Rogers.

Ellis is a 58-years old MIT graduate living with a crippled marriage and failing lungs. He’s expected to die soon of pulmonary fibrosis, and his wife barely notices he’s there in the first place. Six months to live is the doctor’s prognosis, to which Ellis responds with a chuckle. Mr. Roger’s isn’t too worried about the constraints of time—in his garage he’s built a time machine. With the promise of a painful death less than a year down the road, Ellis finds the courage to leave 2014 behind, and jump forward into 2214. No one in Detroit wants him. Maybe the veil of time hides a cure for his ailing lungs, perhaps only a quick jump up the road.

Saying good-bye to his only friend, he leaves the schematics for the time machine with his so-called pal, “Time Machine? You interrupt me for this? Can’t’chu see I’m watching football rewind on ESPN?” So Ellis goes home, fires up the time machine, and flies forward. (Ellis’s life is a bit more complicated, but this’ll get the point across.)

There is a tiny miscalculation. Ellis shoots forward 2000-years. Whoops.

‘People,’ if that is what we decide to call them, have moved underground. They’ve learned the secrets of immortality and Tomorrowland’s citizenry has figured out how to coexist without war. However, the price is pretty steep. World peace came at the cost of splicing away the Y-chromosome. No longer needing to procreate, genitals have been conveniently discarded from the gene-pool. Ellis truly is the last ‘man’ on Earth.

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Edits were tight. The writing flowed easy, and with an edge of humor, Hollow World was a pleasure to read. Those who are expecting Riyria Chronicles should instead expect Casual Vacancy. This isn’t Harry Potter. Without reading Mr. Sullivan’s earlier works I was able to see this particular work wearing clear glasses. However, in the afterword of the book, Mr. Sullivan warns (a little too late) that he expects many to hate Hollow World. There is a lot of room for hate, especially with America’s current social conscience (or lack there-of.) In the writing, Mr. Sullivan decided to poke several hot buttons. This fact raised my opinion of the book greatly.

Now is the point in this review where I will gripe, but to express my gripes there might be minor spoilers.

I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum, but you’ve been warned.

Sci-fi isn’t easy to write. I sure as hell won’t do it.

2,000 years in the future, it might be hard to get cell phone coverage. Ellis doesn’t call anyone, but he does check his 2,000-year old voice mail. Most people won’t understand that statement, so I’ll explain. Messages are not kept on the actual phone, but through a digital service accessed on a computer somewhere in ether space. No AT&T equals no voice mail.

I liked all the heady world building—some of it is real heady. Despite being well written, physicists will be annoyed by the simplicity of the time machine, and plenty of readers will hate how rocks are the source of food. Like Satan told Jesus out in the wilderness, “If you are hungry, just turn those rocks into bread.” On the downside, there wasn’t a lot of action, almost none. Hollow World is still an adventure, but many readers will be displeased with the absence of hostility—which seems ironic since the novel is about a near-utopian society.

This is the gripe that really bugged me. The character named Pax, just like Pol, Dex, Geo, and Cha, do not have Y-chromosomes. No one in Hollow World does. They are not ‘men.’ ‘He’ is the wrong pronoun. Without Genitalia, I found the supposed behavior of ‘Homosexuality’ as being implausible, if not absolutely impossible. You will understand at the end, which I found to be a little [cough-cough] ‘Gay.’

In total, the summary of my experience–I found Hollow World enjoyable to read. Eventually, I’ll find my way back to another Michael J. Sullivan story. I look forward to Rhune, reportedly beginning the next fantasy trilogy promised to be written.

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(All links lead to Wikipedia, it is easier than surfing all over the net for stronger sources, and Wiki’s data is solid enough to stand on.)

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D. Robert Grixti’s Sun-Bleached Winter

I don’t usually showcase an author’s text in my reviews because it requires too much transcribing on my part, but D. Robert Grixti’s prose deserves to be shown off. Here is an excerpt from Sun Bleached Winter–

Railway


Night has fallen. We’re eating dried biscuits by the light of the campfire. The flames glow weakly, dimly. Dying. Flakes of snow drift down from the sky and threaten to bury everything under a blanket of white. Nothing can live here.

Atmosphere––Mr. Grixti does it very well. The bleak world inhabited by the narrator had been crispy fried by nuclear war. A blanket of smoke, dirt, and clouds blot the sun’s light, embracing every day in fallout winter. Lionel and his sister Claire are the central characters in the story, but things spice up with the introduction of Jessica, a gun toting firecracker wearing clean clothes. Lionel is conscripted to do a dirty job with Jessica, and if he survives, he’ll earn entry into New City for himself and Claire.

Expertly done, the setting was consistently used to keep the weight of doom and uncertainty lingering with every turn of the page. Here is another tease,

I stay awake, staring into the blackness, and thinking about what tomorrow may bring. What future is there for us, waiting for us, perhaps mocking us, beyond the void of time? Is it a good one, or a bad one? I find myself struggling to wonder how those terms can still have meaning, in a world where human life is reduced to something abstract, something indefinable and killing can be so easily justified in the name of survival. There can’t be such things as good or bad in a place where everything is grey. People will continue to do what they have to do, and thus the only future that awaits us is one that’s as bleak as the present.

Irony would be another great descriptor for Sun Bleached Winter. As Lionel and his sister struggle to survive in the wastelands, they also struggle to maintain the humanity that has been burned from the world. Is New City going to be a budding society, or just the shadow of what once was?

Is it medicine that makes a society? Labor? Can it be defined as protection from the marauding hordes of cannibals? Does civilization depend upon which side of the gun you are standing? Beware of the dogs––the marauders sometimes use them to corner their quarry.

It growls once more, and then unleashes a spine chilling howl, its hind legs tensing behind it, preparing to pounce forward and take its prey. Panicked, I feel through the snow beside me with my left hand, praying that I’ll find the cold, familiar shape of the revolver waiting for me. The dog starts barking furiously and then it charges, running at me with lightning speed. I close my eyes, preparing for the sharp fangs to drill into my face, when I finally feel the grip of the handgun, already starting to sink into the deep snow.

Action is quite challenging to write. For the most part, I felt D. Robert Grixti’s execution of action was done with great agility as a first time author. As you saw, that last passage offered fantastic visualization. Most of the action in Sun Bleached Winter held tension, but in a few instances it faltered a little. Nothing to fret over, as Mr. Grixti evolves as a writer, those hiccups will pass.

For the most part the editing was solid. There were a few words inserted that weren’t quite right. I found “Illegible” where it should have been “Unintelligible,” there was one or two other not-quite-correct words placed throughout the text. Another petty comment from me, the ending seemed a little over the top. I do not want to spoil the stories ending, it was very well plotted. Without saying too much, I still wonder if one character’s onset of madness was necessary in context to the greater picture. Read this tale, tell me if you disagree with that observation. I was still wearing a grim smile as I closed the book on this dark gem.

All in all, I enjoyed this novella.  Sun Bleached Winter is a quick, fresh read, artistically written well enough to start fun dialogue between readers.

I’d been given a copy of this novella in exchange for a balanced review.

Tim Marquitz and the Demon Squad

[This is among my earliest book reviews. It is a bit raw and unrefined. I’ve kept this one to remind myself of how art grows and matures at a pace with the artist.]

 

The first Damnation Book I read was Tim Marquitz’s Demon Squad: Armageddon Bound. For the events of this review, I will refer to it as AB. The second book I read from Damnation Books was Tim Marquitz’s Demon Squad: Resurrection, which for this review I will call DSR. I am going to read the third one when it is released since I’ve enjoyed both books greatly.

I must give you a fair warning, this is dark fiction at its darkest. It is also dark humor at its funniest. If you are afraid of the dark, Tim’s book just might kill you.

How dark is dark? If your life ambition is to be more like Rick Warren, you might want to skip reading this one. But, if you think a succubus making out with a severed zombie-head is funny, these are the books you’ve been looking for.

I was in love with Tim’s idea by the time I’d read page 6 in AB. AB was a gruesome and gritty read from the very beginning. Neither of the stories gives the reader too many time outs, the action is always moving. Tim Marquitz weaves an action packed occult/fantasy tale with no comparison that I’ve yet read. I suspect as I read more of the Damnation Books there will be other daringly similar projects, but this tale is truly unique.

The premise of Tim’s idea is after eons of dispute at man’s expense, Lucifer and God call a truce. They leave the universe to another dimension to sort out their ills, but life here on earth continues as the status quo. The hierarchy of demons, without the strong rule of Lucifer, begins battling over who gets what.

Triggaltheron, or better known as ‘Frank,’ is a half-demon who resides on earth. He likes it here and he is content that Armageddon has been put on pause. He has even decided to help humanity by associating with a group of psychics, wizards, and a couple angels and other similar misfits that don’t want to see the world end or overrun with demons. They call themselves D.R.A.C. short for Demonic Resistance and Containment. Hence the name – Demon Squad.

But some angels from the Angelic Host – the servants of God– have gone mad in the absence of their loving creator. God’s last standing order before he left was to see to the end of the world. Hence the name – Armageddon Bound.

These stories are very fun as long as all the taboos that are broken don’t make you faint. Although some spots had me sweating bullets, I felt the story appealed to me personally. Tim has proven to have balls of steel in crossing as many lines of social acceptability as he did in writing AB, it compelled me to purchase the second book in the series which crossed even more lines than I thought even existed. It certainly stretched my imagination.

My only real complaint is DSR took a while to arrive from Amazon. I wonder if they had run out and needed to order more prints. That is good news for a writer, but sucks for the reader. When I got the book, I was saddened, the book was smaller. (Honestly, I think they figured out a way to fit more words on each page, because the story was packed.)

If you read AB, but you are an art snob, and didn’t think the quality of the writing in AB was good enough, there are evident advances in Tim’s storytelling ability in DSR. I didn’t think there were too many gaps in the first one; it was everything it promised to be – daring, violent, and dark. But the second one steps up to the next level, and I’d bet the third one will also be a little better than the second one.

The humor, which was great in the AB, is even better in DSR. Here was one of the spots in DSR that had me chuckling and telling my wife . . .

My life flashed before my eyes and I realized I was doomed. In brilliant colors, everything that ever meant anything to me ran across the screen of my mind. Not surprisingly, all I saw were boobs. Life had been good.” (page 74)

She wasn’t as impressed as me, but then, she isn’t quite as cultured in male priorities as some of us are. I would hope that before I die, like Frank, this could be my final revelation as well.