Review

Wool

by Hugh Howey

Toxic winds blow through angry cloud-covered skies. The earth is dust and ash. The buildings of the city are hollow, decayed skeletons. This can all be seen through camera lenses from the safety of the silo. Top to bottom, people are safe. They have purpose --- from the mechanics who dwell in the deep down and feed power throughout the levels, to the farmers of the mid level, the IT geeks, and the workers of the upper level. Life is dictated, jobs have color-coded overalls, relationships are documented, children are allowed for via lottery, and you never, ever talk of the "outside." To do so is a crime, and the punishment is to be sent outside to clean the lenses of the cameras and to perish in the harsh world while others watch.

This is the world of WOOL.

"Whether you choose print or pixels, WOOL will capture you. It is a tremendously well-crafted tale, and a recommendation to read it is quite easily offered. If this is any indication of what we can expect from Howey in the future, then his next works will be eagerly awaited indeed."

Actually a collection of five books, WOOL tells the story of the people of the silo, beginning with Sheriff Holston and his deputy. Holston is asking to be let outside, which is a crime. But he is a broken man, no longer able to live with the grief of losing his wife, a woman who was sent outside three years earlier. It is in this short opening book that we learn of the silo, the hierarchy, and the Uprisings of the past and the threat they pose to the order of things. Holston's story ends, but book two shifts to the deputy and the mayor, seeking his replacement in the deep down --- a mechanic named Juliette. Their journey down the silo and back up deepens the setting and expands the knowledge of the silo and its history. By the time Juliette's story takes over in book three, the power plays and political machinations in the silo are coming to the fore, and secrets long hidden begin to find daylight, threatening the silo and all those who inhabit it.

Author Hugh Howey has designed a world with the harsh, post-apocalyptic feel of such novels as Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE, Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, and Walter Miller's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ. While it is categorized as science fiction like Miller's work, it is quite possible to shelve it alongside Cronin and McCarthy in general fiction. It is an accessible work for readers of all genres because the story is compelling, harrowing, and the people whose lives we witness unravel on the pages are vivid and engaging.

The world of WOOL is gritty and frighteningly plausible. Through the story, as secrets come to light, readers and characters alike are left to wonder if some secrets are worth keeping. Is it safer, is it more for the good of all, to keep people ignorant? Is it more logical to create a lie than to allow people to hope foolishly? Sheriff Holston's tale springs the leak from which the story unwinds, but the majority of the book belongs to Juliette. Each character plucks at a different strand of the web, yet ultimately they all become entangled in the middle as the truth bears down. Their individual tales are haunting and sad, and Howey has done an exemplary job at making you give a damn. And you certainly do.

WOOL was an enormous success already in the digital world and landed Howey a lavish contract for a print version. Whether you choose print or pixels, WOOL will capture you. It is a tremendously well-crafted tale, and a recommendation to read it is quite easily offered. If this is any indication of what we can expect from Howey in the future, then his next works will be eagerly awaited indeed.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on March 22, 2013

Wool
by Hugh Howey