Title: Man in the Empty Suit
Author: Sean Ferrell
Rating: 2.5 stars
Cover Comments: Simple, though the coloured silhouette of the man is very eye catching.
Time travel can be messy business. Especially if you celebrate your birthday every year with your former and future selves in an abandoned hotel, watching your younger selves get unashamedly drunk, whilst your older selves shake their heads in pity at how stupid and reckless you used to be. But this is where we find our unnamed protagonist, on the eve of his 39th birthday, preparing eagerly for his party as this year he gets to be ‘The Suit’.
However, his night is ruined when he discovers ‘The Body’: himself at age 40, dead. It turns out the Elder versions of him have been hiding this conspiracy from the youths, and it’s up to The Suit to determine what exactly happened, and how to stop it. Only 41, The Drunk, knows how to escape this fate, but he’s in no state to help. Things become even more complicated when an outsider, Lily, arrives at the party for the first time ever. Can she help, or is she just at risk? Can The Suit save himself?
This was an interesting concept that sadly didn’t work out for me.
Firstly, there is a huge problem with the time travel element of the book. Basically, you can either have the ‘time is linear’ theory (everything that happened happened, you can’t change history), or the multiverse theory (travel to another universe where you can change things because it’s not actually your time line). To make a time travel novel successful you have to pick one theory and stick to it, especially if this is the centre fold of your entire premise. Man in the Empty Suit, however, doesn’t do this. It starts with a linear idea of time, then suddenly revels that it can be changed, even in a small way. Since there is no mention of other universes, we must just assume that the author doesn’t understand these rules.
Now, the other issues I had was with the characters and the pacing.
I found both the nameless main character and the mysterious woman Lily to be fairly unlikable. You never really connect with either, despite being inside his head. All I can tell you is he’s arrogant, self-loathing, and an alcoholic. Even when surrounded by his other selves, the main character can only pity the Youngsters and resent the Elders, all whilst seeing his current self as better. Perhaps this is a comment by the author about how our perceives change over time, and how we view ourselves, always comparing how we used to be to what we are now, and what we’d like to become. But it seemed that the protagonist never learns from his this, only ever seeing his current state as been right.
As for Lily, even after hearing her story I found it hard to care. She felt a little tacked-on, more of a plot device to give The Suit a motive and a romantic interest, and so she fell a bit flat to me.
I also disliked the pacing and sudden change from the party to six months before hand. I felt like the story would have worked better if had been isolated to the party. It would have given a tighter time constraint, causing more tension and interest.
A couple of other questions; what happened to the world in 2071? What did the time machine/raft actually look like and how did it work? What made him build one in the first place? Why come back to a rundown hotel in 2071, of all the points in history?
2.5 stars for the original and intriguing idea.