A review of Howey’s Wool series

Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5)Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wool was originally a short story, a standalone project that really holds its own. I heard about the ruckus Howey was making in the self-publishing world – apparently sold 20 000 Kindle copies in a single day – and had to see for myself. I’m happy to say it was worth the hype.

Wool #1 is the heart-crushing tragedy of Holston, the “sheriff” of a stratified community (colour-coded, Huxley-style) living in a buried Silo in a mysteriously eco-shattered future. It’s the story of a man driven insane by mourning. The post-apocalyptic backdrop unfolds methodically, little nuggets of “fact” trickling through just when they are needed, but what really moves me is the character, Holston, and only by association the terrible reality that has pushed him to these extremes. It’s a nasty reality, full of treachery, corruption, and conspiracy. Sweeping landscapes are painted with only a few words: the claustrophobic atmosphere in the silo, the NASA-type suits required to brave the toxic air of the outside, the drab fields seen through grimy camera feeds, their only contact to the outside world. Cleaning these camera lenses with home-spun wool pads is where the series takes it’s name, and the symbol is a loaded one. As always with good story-telling, this one is purely character-driven, a close third-person narrative that shifts protagonists, each individual tale loaded with emotional power. It’s hard to put down.

No more spoilers, and besides, the plot is thick with suspense, twists and turns and aliens (just kidding: no aliens); once you get a taste, I suspect you’ll be hooked. After a gut-wrenching, powerful ending to Wool #1, which seems like a closed loop, Howey takes us through another 4 volumes of great drama, tight world-building and of course, the dystopian novel’s bread and butter: corrupt, oppressive Authority. The dramatic pacing never slackens for a second. Wool’s is not the explosive, poetic, waxing-lyrical madness of Simmons or Miéville or Iain Banks (which I love: a whole different kind of magic), but rather a simple, effective, pared-down prose that reminds me of Orwell, HG Wells or Vonnegut.

Even if you aren’t really into the whole post-apocalyptic fiction thing, give the first volume a shot. Chances are you’ll fall head-first into Silo 18 and it’s a thrilling ride all the way down. Also, it’s over 100 floors deep so it’s a long, long way down: a prequel trilogy is out, a sequel trilogy in the works, movie rights are sold, Ridley Scott in the director seat (after Prometheus, he has a lot to make up for), and I, for one, am pretty excited about this end of the world.

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