Saturday, February 23, 2013

"The Hollow Man" - Dan Simmons (1993)

From the Kirkus Review of "The Hollow Man" by Dan Simmons (1993).

"...  Gail and Jeremy Bremen are telepaths who met and married ten years ago. Together, they find relief from the psychobabble of voices around them, the minds of people they meet and a larger psychobabble grounded in the whole "wave'' of human intelligence.

When Gail dies of an inoperable tumor behind her eye, Jeremy freaks out, burns down their house, abandons his professorship, and goes on the road.

In Florida, he witnesses a mob murder, is kidnapped by the mob, later escapes.

Taken up by Miz Morgan, a rancher, he finds himself facing razorblade dentures over his important parts and escapes from her too.

In Las Vegas, his mind-reading stands him well at the poker table; he's a huge winner, but the mob is back.

After saving his life still again, he winds up in the hospital, enters the closed-off mind of a retarded blind boy, and finds Gail alive in a probable reality that the boy has put together from particles of Jeremy's mind.

Throughout, in flashback, we are treated to far-out wave-particle theory about a unified wave of human consciousness that allows for transfer of mind or being.

From this description, you might expect a lyrical novel featuring great psychic leaps of imagination.

Simmons leaps, but where he lands in a parallel probability is far less vividly experienced than possibilities allow. The nostalgic opening chapter of 'Summer of Night' is better than this whole novel.

Nearly everyone whose mind gets read is sour and mean-spirited. Big brainy equations, small rewards."


Simmons wrote "The Hollow Man" after publishing his four "Hyperion" novels. He is still plainly fascinated by such Hyperion themes as whether the universe somehow physically encodes realities such as personality, love and consciousness.

Simmons knows enough physics to appreciate that this would mean a common theory for both quantum-mechanics/relativity and consciousness. Hence the novel is full of references to Schrodinger's equation, holography, standing waves, chaos and fractals.

Sadly, this falls into the well-worn SF trap of trying to weave coherent pseudoscience into the plot (Greg Bear commits similar crimes in "Moving Mars"). 

The "Hyperion Cantos" worked as a beautifully cohesive creation because it merely assumed its universe could be made to work. Like sausage-manufacture, it pays in these circumstances not to look too closely.

Back at "The Hollow Man", if you delete the speculative theorisation there is still an interesting account of the protagonist Jeremy Bremen's descent into American hell.

It's not wholly convincing: Bremen's motivations and actions often don't really make sense and his many escapes from disaster stretch credibility. Still, Simmons is a good-enough writer to keep the pages turning through the bulk of the book.

The final resolution is pretty opaque but makes more sense if you check out 'quantum suicide'.