by Hugh Howie
Reviewed by Richard Saar
Another book that has taken me a while (years) to get to… the pitfalls of a large book pile! In fact, this was a gift for my partner, who read it in just a few days, raved about it and proceeded to go on to read the follow-up books by Hugh Howie: Shift and Dust. So, with all sorts of enthusiasm to read it, I put in on my pile and then just sort of forgot about it as I was going through a fantasy heavy reading phase at the time. Don’t you find the taste for genres just comes and goes, much like food… so, when I was searching for a dystopian future world to sink my teeth into, Wool was the first choice.
First off, what I read is technically the Wool Omnibus, a combination of 5 short stories, or novella’s, that were self-published by author Hugh Howey over a period of six months on the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing platform. However, as these 5 stories all flow almost seamlessly from one story to the other, with the same timeline, setting and characters, the Omnibus really feels just like one single story, so that’s how I read it and how I’ll review it.
Wool opens in the world of the Silo, a vast 145 level underground silo where humanity’s last stand lives, teeming with thousands of citizens who are ruled by a rigid code and caste system where people live and die within their own levels.
We have the Uppers, the top 45 or so floors where the Mayor, Sherriff and mysterious IT department with their secure racks of servers live and work. Level one holds the only airlock to the outside and the cafeteria walls on level one are covered with huge screens showing live streams of the world outside from camera’s mounted above the silo.
The Mids house most of the farms for food and the Supply department, those who create all the consumables from tools, equipment and clothes, think of them as the working middle class.
Finally, down below level 100 are the Lowers where Mechanical and the Miners live, the people who keep the electricity on, the water and air flowing, and mine the raw materials that Supply use to create goods with, good IT use to maintain their precious servers. These are hardy people who only rarely go up to the upper levels for “holidays”.
Amongst the colour coded overalls that shows everyone what department you’re from, there is one rule above them all: Never talk, or even think about the Outside. The Silo’s worst punishment is to be sent for Cleaning, forced outside on a one-way trip to clean the cameras that feed to wall on level one to die afterwards in the toxic wind swept ground above.
It’s into this world that we meet Holston, the Silo’s much liked and long standing Sherriff, whose wife went stir crazy and asked to be sent to Clearing three years prior. Holston has been searching for a reason why his wife asked to go outside ever since, it’s the culmination of this search that sees him ask to go outside to join his wife.
His replacement, Juliette is plucked from deep down in Mechanical, much to the dismay of the head of the powerful IT department who wants to install one of his own in the position. When Juliette uncovers Holston’s research and puts together some of the forbidden knowledge he discoverer in a new way, she too is sent to Cleaning.
This sparks a series of events that will turn the Silo’s power structure upside down and ultimately brings its survival to the very brink. What does Juliette discover on outside that change the course of the Silo forever, I’ll leave the story there in case I spoil even more of the twists and turns that Howey has written in to the story.
The world that’s been created here is not altogether unique, there’s been plenty of post-apocalyptic tales involving underground silos, in fact silos and bunkers a quite the norm in the dystopian genre, however there are more than enough unique elements here to make the world seem fresh and interesting.
Howey doesn’t feel the need to explain it all straight away, the world is revealed at its own pace as the story progresses and as reader I appreciate that, I want to be able to form my own theories and ideas about how the world works and came into being. This allowed me to really get engaged into the story by trying to figure out the next reveal or twist and see if I was right or wrong.
The characters are also accessible, if a little formulaic, we don’t just get to see development of the two main leads, we see some substantial development of the secondary characters as well, and quite frankly the Silo itself has a character of its own which seems to impose its own will on the people who live within it.
Whilst not his first work, it is certainly the work that announced him to the world, Wool is assured and very well done. The story is fresh enough in a crowded genre to make it genuinely interesting and it certainly ripped along. I read the book in about 3 or 4 days, it was one of those books where you just found and excuse to grab another chapter… then another... and suddenly, it’s 2am! I can well understand why Hollywood has already picked up the rights to take it to the big screen.
Source: Bought from a real bookstore
IBR Rating: ★★★★✩
Recommendation: Highly recommend for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, a real page turner that will keep you hooked until the last page.