WOOL Transcends its Genre, Birthplace, with Blockbuster Writing
Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5)
by Hugh Howey. 550 pages ISBN 1469984202 $5.99, Kindle edition. $19.95, paperback.
When you read a lot, you ditch the idea that some books are ‘better’ than others, by virtue of their Difficulty, Seriousness and Importance. We libravores, like foodies, know that the whole POINT of the experience is that it be juicy, delicious, easy to discuss with friends, fun. And no libravore would insist that good books must be Difficult and Obscure.
I bring this up because, in the world of Serious books, Wool has three strikes against it: It was self-published (finding a home on Kindle as a digital edition). It is science fiction. And it is incredibly fun to read. Despite all that, it seems destined to become a sci-fi classic.
Wool, by Hugh Howey, was originally published as a single short story in 2011. The story took off, and with fans wondering what happened next, Howey got to writing. There are currently 5 stories set in the Wool world that comprise the Omnibus edition, and a prequel, First Shift – Legacy (Part 6 of the Silo Series) which was released April 5, 2012.
Wool is set in a post-apocalyptic world. A society lives in an underground silo, its only interaction with the outside world occurs when a “cleaner” goes out into the toxic landscape to clean the sensors and cameras that offer the community their lone glimpses of the outside world. The first story opens with Holston climbing to his death, describing the worn stairs of the silo and reminiscing about his childhood. Through flashbacks to his time with his wife, Allison, interspersed with his interactions in the present, you come to understand not only why Holston is there, but what life is like in the community around him.
It’s difficult to describe the story without giving away much of the tension, but this feels like a throwback work of journeyman fiction, in the best sense. Details that in Holston’s eyes are normal paint a picture of the strange world he inhabits. The language, pacing and constant buildup of unanswered questions create a page turner that will keep you up late at night, and into the morning.
The first story is short, and each in the Omnibus gets successively longer. While the stories have their own resolutions, I can see why early fans were clamoring for more. Each story answers some questions from the last, but then creates some larger ones. And the beauty of a closed system in science fiction is that, if done well, it can address the bigger questions: what are people really like? What is our essential nature, stripped from our current culture? What is the best way to ensure a society survives? What if that conflicts with individual desires or needs?
Howley intertwines the big questions so adeptly with his characters’ personalities that its hard to separate them out here without giving away the plot.
I am not a science fiction fan; I am a fan of well-written books from any genre. I am sure I’m in the presence of a well-written book when it reads as fast as a pulpy blockbuster, but the characters and ideas stay with me long after.