Review of ‘Wool’ by Hugh Howey

imagesI kindled this based on a BBC web article about the author who wrote a dystopian short story, conversed with his wife after seeing it pass a 1000 purchases on Amazon, and then decided to write a full blown novel, with a second and third to come. One of those “electronic self publish” happy stories where skill at writing fiction shone past the inevitable and usual course of publisher rejection letters. Of course, it subsequently has been picked up by a publisher like the “Fifty Shades…” series, had the aforementioned BBC article, etc….the end result is Mr Howey finds himself with a new career. I have to say that having recently seen the appalling “Cloud Atlas” – read the book, its much better – and the new Judge Dredd film I found myself reading this latest stab at a dystopia with a very critical eye. Of course, Mr Howey is treading a genre with some pretty spectacular efforts. Orwell’s “1984” leaps to mind, or perhaps Atwood’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale”. Not that, of course, a dystopia needs to be science fiction – just think of Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. The ceiling is stratospheric in this field and I have to say that Howey produces a credible effort (one that appears to be snapped up for a future film and you can see why).
The novel revolves around a few key characters, headed by the enigmatic, engineering genius that is Juliette Nichols. The story commences with the last few days of Sheriff Holston whose wife, Allison, “was poking some great, overly full balloon with a needle, and Holston wanted to get that air out of it before she poked too far.” The balloon that Juliette, Holston, Mayor Jahns, Deputy Marnes plus a host of others all live in is a silo – a self-contained 144 level sealed unit. None have seen fresh air, none walked outside because of the toxic nature of the world outside. The only ones who venture from this “prison” are sent as a death sentence to clean the lense of the camera – that gives the people of the silo their only view of the world – before their suit falls apart and they die. It is the death of Holsten (which was the concept of the short story) that then leads the author to write the story of Juliette. A story that pits the “good” of Mechanical against the “evil” of IT. The story has as its theme the common struggle of the need for Liberty to fight the unbending narrative of Tyranny in all its forms; the threads of the plot are woven in social dogma, from enforced birth control, the chit system of payment, to the segregation of skills. The silo is a place where critical thinking is suppressed and, and inevitably becomes the birthing pits of revolution. It only takes one person to trigger great change and in this case it is Juliette. Her nemesis is Bernard, the head of IT…the Fat Controller.
The result is chaos, war, death, and a new hope.
The concept of the silo reminded me of a Mega City One Tower block or even the scurrying lifestyle in the film “City of Ember”; the claustrophobic effects closely echo (but never match) the great fears produced in Clarke’s 2001:A space Odyssey; the revolution and uncovering of the truth has roots in the Reformation. This is a world under the control of Big Brother, one where humanity has become a seed of grain that now needs to burst free of its silo and grow towards a new sunlight.
So…this is a good opener. I will read the next, and the last. The kindle version has few mistakes, which is a pleasant surprise. Those were minor spelling issues, such as “wretch” for “retch” (page 263, location 4069). It didn’t detract. I did pause two thirds of the way into the novel as too many questions were building up. I wanted to know why Juliette et al were choosing to act as they did. Luckily, picking it back up led to a rush of answers (nothing ground shaking; you’ll have seen it before in many such films/books in this genre) and the novel ends with a clear direction to move in the next book – “Shift”.
Give it a go. It’s pretty good.

Categories: Book Reviews, Hugh Howey

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