Cemetery Dance, December 2019
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Review by R. B. Payne
Crystal Lake Publishing
If you like your horror fast and furious and your gameplay unrelenting, then Hollow Heart by Ben Eads will suit your fancy. In this telling of the birthing of a cosmic horror, the subtext is minimal, the text is visceral, and the hypertext feels like a drug rush when everything simultaneously makes sense and no sense at all.
Hollow Heart is primarily the story of Harold and Mary, two battle-scarred ex-Marines dealing with PTSD, and their friends, trapped in a Florida community when a cosmic threat literally rears its ugly head.
Unfortunately, their mobile home community is built atop the spawning ground of a great new god being constructed by The Architect. Trapped in a wheelchair, Harold must overcome fear, limitation, and addiction, to organize a ragtag team to struggle against a seemingly invincible creator and his behemoth who will transform the world into perpetual horror.
That world doesn’t include humans, Wal-Marts, or free will. It’s a world of spinning razor-wire teeth, flowing blood, shredded tendons, splayed intestines, and monstrous creatures that consume the weak and willing. Friendships and alliances in the Shady Hills trailer park will be tested if the great new god is to be destroyed.
Hollow Heart is a potentially awesome novel crammed into a fast-based and sometimes brain-numbing novella. Without space for ample character development and some questionable authorial choices, the novella reads like a dose of LSD given to a platoon before a firefight. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s spectacular imagery and the conceit of the story is quite powerful. In the end, the tale offers a satisfying conclusion within its own context.
That doesn’t mean all questions are answered in this compact novella. The backstory of The Architect is lightly explained and the source of his powers are a mystery. The Architect, as a major character and antagonist, should have his own history fully revealed as a natural part of storytelling. Likewise, the ending glosses past a needed expansion and explanation. We are left wanting more and perhaps Mr. Eads wished it that way.
When I finished reading the story, I wished that Mr. Eads had considered that his idea deserved more than a novella. Reworked, and presenting more emotional depth and less convenient happenstance, this could be a two or three book series. Presently, the story feels rushed (there are many unanswered teases) and possible story permutations are largely unexplored. Too much is unexplained and Hollow Heart appears to be an idea waiting for further elucidation.
This doesn’t mean that a reader won’t enjoy the tale. It’s a ride on a roller-coaster of storytelling that will have you screaming and cringing.
In summary, the metaphor of the hollow heart plays out in many ways in this surrealistic cosmic horror. It’s a reference to the place where Harold starts his journey and where Mary finds herself in relationships. It’s also the cold-heartedness of friends that have turned away, officials abandoning their sworn oaths, and mostly the place where soldiers begin and end their wartime service. One cannot fail to be moved by Harold’s situation, and it’s a plight for many of our poorly-served veterans. They deserve better.
In this story, Mr. Eads has made the hollow heart tangible. How we service our injured and fallen soldiers reflects on the broader world we wish to build.
In that sense, we may all be The Architect.
Read the book. Decide for yourself.
(c) 2019 by R. B. Payne, All Rights Reserved