Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey
Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool: Omnibus Edition
Hugh Howey
2012

Hugh Howey’s Wool might not have the most descriptive of the titles but over the course of several short novels its double meaning becomes readily apparent and rather fitting; even if it might be a little off-putting. This title was recommended to me by a friend and a little research revealed the self-published title, now in omnibus form, was optioned for film by Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian and has been picked out by Random House UK for publication in hardcover in 2013. In this post-apocalyptic novel readers are introduced to a society of humans living in what seems to be a silo transformed into an underground habitation. One hundred levels the deep the people of this silo are focused on living their lives on surviving below ground. In those instances when dissatisfaction, or even optimism about the outside world, occurs the people are given what they want: the chance to go outside.

I’ve noticed that in the fiction that I most enjoy there is a common thread in that there is a vivid sense of place. As Wool progresses it is this aspect that I found most impressive with Howey’s work. The silo seen in the novels takes on a vivid life from its physical presence right down to the social classes its vertical orientation have produced. The winding staircase down the silo, the various jobs assigned to each section of levels, and the character and attitude of the people met along the path from top to bottom bring the environment to the forefront. As Howey details to the surface of the silo, orients readers to how life has changed in this subterranean lifestyle, he slowly begins to uncover the layers of secrets that lay at its core. He does this carefully through the lens of characters that taken on multiple dimensions. Where as the first section of the novel details the fall of the silo’s Sheriff after his wife’s decision to go outside the second section really shine. The odyssey of Deputy Marnes and Mayor Jahns from the silo’s topmost levels down to its very bowels simultaneously details the structure of the Silo itself while illuminating the deeper history between the two characters.

Each section of the omnibus, each short novel, adds new levels of complication the story moving from intimate character portraits and gaining momentum to action and suspense from there. I really don’t want to spoil the excitement but Howey paces the story exceedingly well constantly offering new tidbits of information regarding the destroyed world outside and the silo itself. Wool is a distopian story that adheres very closely to long established tropes in those novels. The focus of Wool deals with dangers of an extreme focus on survival where the rote act of living supersedes the need and desire for progress and change. It warning cry against the dangers of maintaining the status quo without though towards the future. It speaks towards the danger of centralized information control, when one powerful controls the quickest and most efficient forms of communication, and how control of those structures of information and communication can be used to control a population even without that population’s knowledge. Wool definitely tells an interesting and exciting story but its message about the dangers of the manipulation information and communication is an enlightening and timely one given current movements to enforce stricter regulations on the web.

Wool is an accomplished and exciting series well worth attention of science fiction and thriller fans. While the Wool manages to excel at telling an exciting story it also manages to convey an interesting manage even if it does grow a bit heavy handed during its conclusion. While I was particularly drawn to the more intimate character work shown in the first two sections of the novel there greater focus on action over character development as the novel progresses manages to drive the plot forward as it gathers ever increasing steam. While Wool does tell a complete story it definitely looks like Howey has more planned in this work and I for one look forward to seeing whatever the author has cooked up next.

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