February 27, 2013

Life underground

By Hugh Howey
Review by
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Originally a self-published series of e-novellas, Hugh Howey’s Wool has generated almost as much press for what it is seen to represent as it has for its enthusiastic fan response. Some have proclaimed it yet another nail in the coffin of traditional publishing, while others have pointed to it as proof the post-apocalyptic genre still has some life in it. But the ultimate takeaway from any discussion of Howey’s dystopian novel, now published in print and audio versions as a full-length novel by Simon & Schuster, should be that Wool is a riveting read, thanks to memorable characters and a vividly rendered world, both of which linger with the reader long after the last page has been turned. Howey’s path to publication is proof that fascinating characters and evocative world-building can win over readers, no matter how hollowed out a genre has become or what format a book arrives to market in.

The world of Wool is first introduced to the reader through the eyes of Holston, the sheriff of a post-apocalyptic community that lives in an immense, self-sufficient silo. The rules of the community are strict, with most mentions of the outside taboo and any expressed desire to leave the silo resulting in the community’s version of capital punishment—a one-way trip out of the silo to clean the viewing lens of its external camera before succumbing to the toxic environment.

The second section focuses on the journey of the Silo’s mayor and deputy to recruit Holston’s replacement. The rest of Wool follows the adventures of Holston’s successor, a resourceful female engineer named Juliette (Jules) as she discovers that certain aspects of the community inside the silo that are as deadly as the outside is thought to be.

Saying more risks puncturing the tension that is a hallmark of the book. Suffice it to say, Wool reminds the reader how fulfilling a steady diet of small surprises, deftly delivered, can be. And even the most jaded post-apocalyptic enthusiast should enjoy how skillfully Howey confounds expectations and delays certainty.

Though the human interactions are well-wrought, the most consistently compelling relationship in Wool exists between the main characters and the silo itself. In some ways, it’s a mutualistic relationship between an inorganic behemoth and the humans that inhabit, maintain and are protected by it. Yet in its very premise, Wool suggests that even though it may be human nature to aspire to that which is greater than itself, the attempt to do so ravages as often as it preserves.

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By Hugh Howey
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781476735115

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