Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Wool, by Hugh Howey

The high-concept dystopian SF self-publishing success story.


Hugh Howey, 2012, 509 pages

This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

Hugh Howey's Wool series has gathered attention mostly because Howey is one of those rare self-publishing success stories who's joined Amanda Hocking in self-publishing lore: he self-published his first few books, they became massively popular, then he signed a print publishing deal with Simon & Schuster while keeping digital rights for himself, and now he's got a movie deal.

I first became aware of Howey when I tried the first book in his Molly Fyde series. Frankly, I thought it was pretty bad. Not OMG terrible bad, but a typical self-published book: stilted, poorly edited, amateurish.

However, with everyone talking about Wool, I was curious, so I checked out the Omnibus edition. The Wool Omnibus consists of Books 1-5; there are now a total of 9 books plus assorted short stories in the series.

Wool takes place in a Silo, which is the only world its inhabitants have ever known. Some unspecified cataclysm ended the old world and killed everyone else on Earth, leaving the outside world uninhabitable. Now, the residents of the Silo live underground in an orderly, heavily policed society. It's not quite a dystopia; nobody starves, people can change careers, there are even elections for people in authority. But there are strict population controls and courtship rules, and there is one absolute taboo: never speak about the outside, or whatever happened in the unknown past, never speculate about it, and never even hint that you might want to leave the Silo.

Anyone who breathes a word of such sedition is cast out, and sentenced to Cleaning. "Cleaners" are put in an environmental suit and sent outside to die. Before they leave, though, they're told to clean the outside of the Silo's one exterior window with wool, so that the inhabitants can continue to get a view of the outside. Everyone sentenced to cleaning says they won't do it, yet everyone, once they get outside, does. Why? This is the first of several mysteries answered in the series.

The character and story arcs of the Wool Omnibus are not that of a single novel, since Howey published them in installments. The main character in the first book dies (not much of a spoiler, it's foreshadowed early); the main character in the last part of the omnibus isn't even introduced until the end of Book 2.

As with any heavily-policed post-apocalyptic society built on secrets, there is the inevitable exposure and revolt. While there is a prequel series and a follow-up that follows these first five books, the Omnibus is a fairly self-contained story that answers most of the questions that were raised.

I was pleasantly surprised by Wool. There was a lot to like in this story. It is not YA, but it reminded me of some of the post-apocalyptic SF I read as a kid; John Christopher comes to mind, or in adult SF, Fred Saberhagen. Howey's ideas are not as big as either of theirs, but he's a competent writer (with editing), and Wool entertained. I didn't find it very original, though, and the writing was only okay; I'm not particularly interested in reading the rest of the saga.

I was amused that the bad guys are the IT department that runs the Silo's computer network. I think Hugh Howey must have worked for the same company as Nick Burns.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, science fiction, self publishing

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