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Book: The Hollow Man

June 1, 2011
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This is not at all related to the Hollow Man movie starring Kevin Bacon. Let’s just get that out of the way first. However, it is still sort of science-fictiony, but it deals with telepathy, not invisibility.

Here we have another Dan Simmons book. I like this guy. He’s a great writer, and his books are smarty-smart. Sometimes too smart. This one falls under that category. Filled with intricate math and physics and all kinds of equations that were complete nonsense to me, I spent much of this book trying in vain to follow the science, but mostly I just skimmed over the complex theories of parallel universes (except they are NOT parallel universes, as we are reminded over and over). It was very interesting, if a little (okay, a lot) over my head.

Jeremy is a smarty-pants math professor. He and his wife, Gail, share the rare talent of telepathy, or mind-reading. Except it’s not really mind-reading, it’s more like being a radio tower — you just pick up other’s thoughts as they are thinking them. You can’t go back into the ‘files’ and find information — you just get what you get. Anyway, as you might imagine, being able to share almost all your thoughts and feelings with your spouse makes for an unusually close relationship, in both good and bad ways. This part of the book was fascinating to think about — what if you found your soulmate, AND you could read each other’s minds and communicate telepathically? Aside from having to create one hell of a “mindshield” to get any privacy, you’d be closer to this person than any of us mere mortals could ever imagine.

Anyway, Gail dies of a brain tumor, which sends Jeremy totally off the deep end. Cut off from the one person who understands him and inundated with the thoughts and inane mind-babble (or “neurobabble” as he calls it) of the world, he sets off on a journey to try and find some peace. Here’s where the story sort of derails for me.

The story is interesting enough without having to get into the sorts of completely unbelievable adventures Jeremy finds himself in. The science and math of the telepathy/universe-creating angle is super-duper fascinating and thought-provoking. I wish the whole book had been about this mystery of the human consciousness, quantum physics, nature-of-the-universe stuff. I loved that part.

The part where he goes fishing, gets caught up in a mafia gang, ends up homeless and alcoholic, has a terrifying encounter with a serial killer, goes to Vegas and becomes rich, gets found again by the mafia, and eventually ends up in the hospital inside a dying child’s mind… all that craziness I could have done without. I mean really, WTF? If it were some sort of allegory, I totally missed it. The serial killer angle could have been a really great scary book but as it was, it was just a bizarre chapter in a sort of strange book.

So half the book I really enjoyed — the heartbreak of losing Gail, the elation of discovering that her consciousness might not be gone after all, and all of the sciencey-stuff — I loved (even if the complexities were too much for me to comprehend during my evening reading hours). But the bizarre “plot” seemed so arbitrary and unnecessary — it completely lost me.

Still, I enjoyed most of the book quite a lot and still think Simmons is a great writer. The question of telepathy and how human consciousness forms the universe is really interesting and I want to read more about this. I also wish he would write a serial-killer novel about the character he created. But the mafia stuff and all the rest of the bizarre adventures I could have done without. I don’t get it. But I’ve been a little less-than-sharp lately so I might have missed the point of it all; that’s entirely possible.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2011 7:43 am

    ooh this sounds so good! i wouldnt want to be able to read someones mind. its all i can do to handle the thoughts people share with me WILLINGLY.

    also, when i saw the title of this i immediately thought Kevin Bacon, who for truly no real reason, i HATE. and strangely enough, this is the third time ive had to think of him so far today, and its not even 8 am. whats up with that??!!

  2. June 1, 2011 9:00 am

    It was good! I liked it quite a bit and wished I understood the math. And yes, being able to read minds might be an introvert’s worst nightmare…

    Too funny about poor Kevin Bacon, he who is related to everyone in one way or another… I don’t have feelings about him one way or the other, but the Hollow Man movie sounds pretty bad.

  3. June 1, 2011 9:10 am

    This sounds good even if the math goes over my head I still love the bizarro theories of quantum physics.

  4. June 1, 2011 1:00 pm

    That part of the book was really fun and interesting. It was a good read. I still love The Terror and Drood more, however.

  5. June 2, 2011 3:25 pm

    Looks like a very different kind of book from the cover. It’s got that exciting/nostagic “I’m just discovering the science fiction in the adult section of the library” vibe. I had not heard of Dan Simmons before.

    • June 4, 2011 9:26 am

      He’s terrific. His last two, The Terror, and Drood, were AMAZING.

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