The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons has nothing to do with the Kevin Bacon movie with which is shares it’s title. Actually, I’m sure that you can somehow show that the book is somehow related to Kevin Bacon himself. Then again, everything is. The point is that the movie was not an adaptation of this book, and the book is not a novelization of the movie. As a rule I avoid novelizations and I would honestly urge everyone here to do the same.
The Hollow Man is a Dan Simmons book. Yes, the same man who wrote the Hyperion and Illum novels. That’s basically why I picked up this book. I happen to be a big fan of Simons’ work. This novel however is remarkably different from what I got used to from him. It is still a smart and well written book, but it has an unusual setting. Or should I say unusually usual. The action takes place in contemporary America. Which is kinda strange after reading his exceptionally well crafted novels that take place in a distant future. Strange to me at least, though I know that Simmons does not limit himself solely to science fiction.
The main character of the story, Jeremy Bremen is a brilliant mathematician (I instantly took a liking to this character because of his background – I’ll take a scientist over a gruff ex soldier or a cop any day) with a little secret. He has an unusual gift that allows him to read other people’s minds. A gift he shares with his wife. As you can imagine the two telepaths, being able to share the most intimate thoughts, and unable to keep secrets from each other have forged an intimate bond that is unlike most relationships – it goes much, much deeper than that. This is why Jeremy falls apart when his telepathic soul mate dies. He has a mental breakdown, and he loses the ability to tune out other people’s thoughts. Eventually he burns down his house, takes out all of his savings from a bank, drives to the airport, hops onto the first flight out of there, and continues moving. His journey takes him to weird and unexpected places. He becomes a witness to a mafia killing in the everglades which makes him a hunted man. He end up being a character at Disney world. For a while he lives as a homeless man in Chicago. He becomes a farm hand on a ranch. He uses his powers to become a successful professional poker player in Vegas.
Why does he keep moving? What drives him? Bremen’s mind is in shambles, he keeps hearing echoes of his wife’s voice, and his mind reading talent seems to have attuned itself to the deepest, darkest and most disturbing thoughts which is driving him insane. Throughout his journey however, a second narrator starts to pipe in. Someone who seems to know everything about Jeremy and his wife, his research and his quest to understand his gift. Someone who claims to have been created, and/or awakened by Bermen’s gift. So while Jeremy is busy doing his Raul Endymion stint, this mysterious new voice takes the opportunity to take readers through series of flashbacks that flesh out Bremens’ relationship, and the way they slowly started unraveling the mystery of their powers.
Jeremy’s antics keep you at the edge of your seat, while the details of his research give you something to chew on. A lesser writer would stick to the cheap thrills, and leave out the science and mathematics and philosophical musings on the nature of a human mind. Simmons indulges in it, an this is why I love him. It is actually quite amusing that I have read this book right after Anathem, because it totally syncs up. This is probably very spolerish, but Bremen’s final breakthroughs before his wife got sick were very similar to what Orolo was working on at the Lineage Math on Ecba. Though both books arrive at the same idea, they both approach it from different directions. I love when something like this happens.
Has this ever happened to you? Did you ever read two completely different, unrelated books only to realize that the authors probably read and were inspired by the same philosophers and themes? Actually, let me throw another book on the pile here: Divine Invasion. Now that I think back to it, I can definitely see the same patter there: polycosm and human mind which has the power to transcend it due to it’s quantum nature. Then again a lot of Dick’s late work is incomprehensible due to deep, caked on layers of symbolism, and mysticism.
If you are going to pick it up, keep in mind that the story is not as good as Simons’ Hyperion, Endymion or Illium stuff. By which I’m not implying that the book is bad. It is quite the opposite – it is quite good. Just not Simons’ best, at least in my opinion. But what it lacks in narrative sense, it makes up in the science and philosophy department.