Friday, February 15, 2013

Man in the Empty Suit: Review

Sean Ferrell's Man in the Empty Suit takes the idea of time travel and possible paradoxes to a whole new level. His Time Traveler has a major dilemma.  Every year he travels to an abandoned hotel in the New York City of 2071 to celebrate his birthday.  It's an exclusive party--just for him....and his past and future time-traveling selves.  Nothing really extraordinary ever happens until the year he turns 39.  He's on his way to the grand ballroom to get a celebratory drink when he encounters his 40-year-old-self--after an odd interlude and a brief detour to the upper levels (somewhere he'd never ventured before), the 40-year-old rushes into the elevator, leaving the Time Traveler to the stairs.  When he reaches the proper floor, he finds a bunch of the Elders gather round a dead body.  His 40-year-old self has been shot and no one knows who did it.  The Elders look to him to get to the bottom of the mystery.  After all, if he can't stop the death from happening, then all his future selves will disappear.  Things get steadily more crazy as the evening goes on--much younger selves (who have never attended the party before) start showing up and soon there seems to be threats from all sides.  Then there's the unknown factor--a woman named Lily who comes the party....the first person besides himself who ever has.  The Time Traveler finds himself working to save not only his own lives, but hers as well.  It would help if he knew exactly what he should or shouldn't do over the course of the next year.....

This is a very interesting take on time travel and the paradoxes that are often associated with it.  Ferrell doesn't just address the paradoxes--he gleefully produces them and inundates the story with them.  There have been all kinds of theories about time travel paradox....including those that say that you can't go back in time (or I suppose forward) and meet your self.  That you can't accidentally kill your grandfather or you'll blink out of existence.  Ferrell takes on both of those premises....the Time Traveler doesn't just meet himself.  He meets A LOT of himself.  It's not his grandfather who gets killed...it's one year's version of himself.  Ferrell uses the varying timelines created by these events to get the reader to think about our actions--how they affect us and how those actions affect others.  

It's always interesting to read alternate reality stories.  But those usually just show one version of what might have happened if certain events had taken place in an entirely different way (what if JFK or Lincoln hadn't been killed; what if Hitler had won the war; etc).  This novel doesn't show what happens in one alternate reality...it manages to show what happens in multiple alternate realities all at the same time.  This made the story just a little bit dense and hard to follow at times and even labeling different versions of the Traveler with identifying names ("Nose," "Suit," "Yellow," "Seventy," etc.) didn't always help.  It's an extraordinarily interesting and ambitious storyline that needs just a little more clarity for this reader.  Readers who like intricate puzzles will delight in trying to follow all the storylines and trying to determine which versions the Traveler should trust and which he shouldn't.  

My other small quibble relates to various blurbs which made such a point of the humor in this story.  I was hoping for a bit of the Douglas Adams touch to go along with the intricate time travel maze...and was disappointed.  I didn't find the story particularly funny at all.  It's intriguing and engaging.  It makes you think.  But I don't think it will make you laugh.  Three and 3/4 stars for a pretty darn good read--almost four.

8 comments:

Man of la Book said...

Sounds like a very interesting storyline, a different take on time travel.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

TracyK said...

Very nice review. The book sounds interesting. I am going to send it on to my husband, who really likes time travel.

samantha.1020 said...

This sounds interesting! I hadn't heard of it before now but I'm definitely intrigued :)

neer said...

Just a wee bit confusing for my taste.

Red said...

This sounds very interesting and very confusing. But something I am definitely intrigued by and will need to pick up. Even if it's not so funny, which makes me kinda sad.

Excellent review!

Yvette said...

Hmmmm, I think I'll take a gander at this one, Bev. Sounds intriguing.

If it's TOO complex for this old lady's mind, then I'll put it aside and move on.

Since I usually take out 9 or 10 library books at once, that's usually no problem.

Yvette said...

Meant to add: I love time travel books.

geoffwhaley.com said...

This sounds like a great book! And I LOVE the cover.