February 16, 2015

Solid in the Right Places: Michael Sullivan's "Hollow World"



I am usually a SF skeptic. I have read so many famous SF writers that are famous in the genre, but after reading some of the stuff, I am turned away – I’ve had this with Herbert, Asimov, Stephenson, Heinlein, and Doctorow. I think I like SF in theory, but it may turn out I’m just a big fan of Douglas Adams or Gaiman when he writes a Doctor Who episode.
                The problem, as I see it, is that there are three distinct elements that have to come together in a SF work. The characters have to matter, the setting has to make sense, and the plot has to be interesting. So many works fail on at least one of those. Stephenson builds beautiful worlds, and he can write action, but his people are not believable as people. Asimov sets the plots in motion, but even his best work is dated. In the Foundation Trilogy, people are still smoking way in the future, along with other sexist and racist things going on. The stories are often a reflection of the time and the author’s politics. That’s why future fascism in Heinlein is no fun for me.
                But here’s the thing. Hollow World hits on all three things. The characters are developed and they change through the book. The world is fully realized without a heavy info dump or too much hand waving. The plot, though it takes a while to develop the conflict, moves organically from the setting and the characters. It is a really good book in these terms, not just good for SF. I’m glad I was able to be transported to it for a while. One thing though, there was a love-story –esque part that came to fruition after the resolution of the main conflict. It seemed tacked on and unnecessary to everything that came before it. So you can’t have everything, but this book comes very close to perfect.