The Hollow City

The Hollow City is a standalone book by Dan Wells, author of the I Am Not A Serial Killer.  I really enjoyed his Serial Killer trilogy as well as the first book in his YA series (Partials) so I was really looking forward to this book when it came out.  On with the review.

Book Stats

333 pages

Horror, Thriller (which a heavy emphasis on the Psychology of the main character)

Characters

The main character of the book is Michael Shipman, a young man with paranoid schizophrenia.  The book is told entirely through his viewpoint, and because he has schizophrenia, you go through the entire book not knowing what is real and what is a figment of his imagination.  I loved the way his character was written.  All of the other characters in the book were also interesting, but you don’t really want to get too attached to them because you don’t know who is real and who is a hallucination.

Setting

Present day Chicago.

Plot

Michael lives his life in constant fear of everything around him.  He is obsessed by the thought that he is being followed, and he believes that every electronic device is capable of tracking his whereabouts.  Along with this, he sees some very strange creatures following him all the time.  But what happens when you realize that some of the monsters following you are real?  Who can you trust when you can’t trust your own mind?  The book is the story of Michael trying to figure out what’s really going on in his life.

Enjoyment

This is something that I rail about every time I read a book where the psychology of a character is a central plot point.  But in this case, I get to praise the book, because Wells gets the psychology right.  He accurately describes schizophrenia in the book, and even has a scene where he calls out most of modern society’s view of schizophrenia.  It is not multiple personalities, it is your brain responding to stimuli that don’t exist.  I will readily recommend this book on that item alone, because he took the time to get the psychology right in the book.  He even researched some of the medication used and the side effects that occur as a result of the medication.  The psychology was very well done.

And now to discuss the actual story, I loved it.  It’s very dark, mysterious, and you never know what is real.  A common topic when talking about books is the concept of the unreliable narrator.  I don’t normally use the term because I think that the narrator cannot truly be unreliable.  They may not be describing the world as it actually is, but they’re describing it how they experience it, which makes their description real because they are affected by what they experience.  This book is the best example of a truly unreliable narrator that I’ve ever seen.  When the narrator’s mind isn’t sure of what’s real, how can you be sure as the reader?  My one complaint about the story is that the ending isn’t as good as the rest of the book.  It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the beginning of the book is so well written that I don’t know if any ending could have been as effective.

Overall Grade

A very unique, very dark story that gets the psychology right.  I loved this book.

9/10

Firefly Watch: Episodes 6 and 7

This is my fourth post discussing Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the home page for every post of the Firefly watch can be found here.

Firefly Episode 6 – Our Mrs. Reynolds

 

I really enjoyed this episode.  To this point it’s probably the best episode in terms of everything tying together.  Several of the previous episodes had incongruous elements, like the random bar fights that they get into.  This episode starts with the crew completing a mission, and then in celebrating their success they get tied up in one of the strangest situations thus far, Mal getting married.

Mal’s ‘wife’ Saffron was very convincing in her role, and I was quite surprised by the twist as she turned on the crew.  I think I would have liked to see a little more of a hint that she was cooperating with the people operating the net, but it probably would have made it a lot harder to keep her betrayal a secret until the last minute if there was any foreshadowing that she was working with them.  It’s kind of a minor complaint though.

One of the things that I really liked about this episode was that it really felt like it continued the character’s relationships from the previous episodes.  There are a lot of shows that you can watch the episodes in any order, but this show definitely seems to have a strong serialized story.  The main thing I’m referring to is that Mal and Inara aren’t fighting quite as much in this episode, they seem more civil, primarily as a result of the events of episode 4.

I’m also impressed by how well the writers continue to show the characters being clever in using what they have at hand.  Again this is best shown by Mal’s suggestion that Jayne put his gun in a suit so that he’s able to fire it in a vacuum.

As much as the stories are interesting, the real reason that this show works is the characters.  They’re all interesting, and they all come across as being real people.  Jayne in particular steals this episode.  Complaining that Mal doesn’t take him seriously just before he tries to trade a gun for Saffron was a great scene.

For the first time in the run of the show Wash is in a couple scenes for more time than it takes to make a wisecrack.  But right now I still think he’s the weakest character and that he’s there mostly for comic relief.  In contrast, I’m also really interested in Shepherd Book; he definitely has a lot more in his background than he’s told the rest of the characters.

Firefly Episode 7 – Jaynestown

 

It seems that after every episode I’ve railed on about how much I love the characters in this show, and this one is no exception.  This episode might also be the clearest example of why the characters are as interesting as they are, and why the show works as well as it does.

The main story of this episode centers on Jayne.  When they return to a planet he visited years ago, he’s very nervous because of a job that he pulled there.  Of course his worries are entirely unfounded, no one in the town wants to kill him, they worship him as a folk hero.

This episode emphasizes one of the things that the series does so well.  The characters all have backgrounds, they had full lives before the show started, and they have full lives in the scenes that we don’t see in the show.  Jayne’s past obviously catches up with him in this episode, and the reactions of the rest of the characters are perfect as well.  They don’t simply let it go, Jayne is embarrassed by it and everyone else has to harass him about it for the duration of the episode.

Another aspect of the show that is highly emphasized here is that nothing in the world is black or white, but everything exists in shades of gray.  Again this is epitomized by how much Jayne is troubled by what happened at the end of the episode.  Jayne was a fun character before this episode, but this really worked to give a depth to his character.

Another reason for the show’s success is that every character has points of friction when they interact with other characters.  There were two character pairings in this episode that highlighted this aspect.  The first was River and Shepherd Book.  Kaylee tells Simon to go onto the planet with the crew, and Book says he can keep an eye on River.  Those two interacting was fantastic, watching Book’s reaction when River starts to “fix” his Bible because she analyzed it and it didn’t make sense was fantastic.  And then later when River freaked out because of Book’s hair, which is pretty frightening when he takes it out of the mini ponytail he normally has.  It was fun watching those two throughout the episode.

So I’m at the halfway point of the show, and it’s got a lot going for it.  The worldbuilding is still a little odd to me – old west meets space mercenaries is a bit strange to get used to at first – but the characters are so strong that it makes it easier to suspend your disbelief about some of the more disparate elements of the Firefly universe.  I think Kaylee is still my favorite character, but it’s not by a wide margin over anyone else, although I still think Wash is the weakest character.  Wash has played a slightly bigger part in the past couple of episodes, and I’m hoping that they go deeper into his character as the show goes on.