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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Wool by Hugh Howey

POST-APOCALYPTIC

Back when I started this challenge in January, I was all set on what my post-apocalyptic choice was going to be. I read and loved Justin Cronin's The Passage last year, so the sequel The Twelve seemed an obvious choice. But as we all know, us book bloggers are a fickle bunch and it's easy to get distracted by something new. I had heard lots of murmurings about Wool, another post-apocalyptic read, and it sounded very appealing. And when I recently took the plunge and signed up to NetGalley (oh! how that site is going to challenge my self-restraint) this was the first book kindly sent to me by Random House.
Life is good in the silo. The people are friendly, food is plentiful, healthcare is readily available when needed. Those in charge are democratically elected and take their office on the top floor. A skilled IT department keeps channels of communication open throughout. And the whole silo is kept ticking over by the engineers in Mechanical, deep in the belly of the Earth. Just one look at the screens projecting video images of the bleak, uninhabitable landscape outside, and the inhabitants of the silo know how good they've got it. There are always some crazy folk who question this from time to time. How did the silo get here? What exactly is out there, out of view of the lens? These ungrateful dissenters are punished by being cast out with a woolen cloth to clean the cameras so that everyone else can continue to enjoy the view - fated to certain death. But one day sheriff Holston, the sensible and much-respected warden of the silo, joins the dissident ranks and chooses to go outside. This sets in motion a chain of events that shake the foundations of the entire community.

Wool is actually an omnibus of five short stories that were originally published separately. It's still great to read them all together, though, and you can barely see the joins. I can see how books one and two worked as standalone novellas, but by the time you hit book three everything merges seamlessly. And it's a good job, too, because had I been reading this at the time of publication I don't think I would have been able to bear sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happens in the next installment! It's so gripping and completely understandable that those first readers urged Howey to keep writing more and more. He spins a hell of a yarn. There are so many twists and turns that you are never quite sure who is pulling the wool over whose eyes.

Howey has created such a unique and intricate setting in the silo. It's fascinating to have the whole world condensed into one single underground warren. He clearly has a good understanding of sociology and politics, and deftly illustrates both the physical and social hierarchies that exist between the different cliques of inhabitants. The 'down-deeps' are acutely aware of the 'up-tops', working tirelessly to provide for them, while the 'up-tops' are barely even aware of their existence half the time. The technical detail is done well too; for example, I found the descriptions of subterranean hydroponic farming completely plausible. It's detail like this that makes you really believe that the silo could exist and function as an active community for many years.

I also particularly appreciated the effort put into characterisation. Howey flits between different points of view but each individual is so well-developed that I was reluctant to leave them behind when it came to the next chapter. So many favourites - Holston, heartbroken after the death of his wife. The wise Mayor Jahns. Feisty mechanic Juliette. Old Walker, the reclusive electrician who's a secret genius. I think the fact that Wool is actually a series works very well in this way as you thoroughly get to know each character individually and spend time with them before moving on to meet the next. It feels almost like a good TV series or soap opera. In fact, I'll be interested to see how 20th Century Fox treat the cinematic adaptation as for me it would feel more intuitive to serialise the story (similar to, say, Game Of Thrones). Either way, I imagine it's going to be a visual treat and one of those rare books that works just as well on screen as in print.

I'm so glad I picked this up as it's a really satisying tale to get tangled up in. This week I discovered that there's a prequel, called Shift, so that is one that I'll definitely be picking up soon. I certainly feel that Wool deserves the great reviews it has received and would be enjoyed by many readers, even those who aren't usually attracted to sci-fi/dystopian fiction.

12 comments:

  1. What an interesting review of a book that seems to be fascinating. I am not much into SF but would love to give this a shot. Thanks for the post.

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    1. I don't read much SF either but I'll certainly be reading the prequel to this. There's something about it that is really gripping.

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  2. Sounds interesting Marie. Sci-fi isn't really my genre but this one does sound good.

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    1. I think what makes it work is the fact that it's ultimately about people and the way society works. The dystopian setting is interesting and a great creation but I feel like you could transport the bare bones of the plot to a different setting and it would still be great because of the characters.

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  3. I just remembered that I have this from Netgalley * slaps wrist*. It sounds really appealing.

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    1. They have the prequel up on there now as well so if you enjoy it you can get requesting that one too!

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  4. I really enjoyed this and have the next one waiting to be read which I'm also looking forward to. I think this is one story that could convert to film very well.
    Lynn :D

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  5. My husband has this on his list to get, so I am glad to see your review and that you liked it so much. It sounds perfect to me as 5 linked novellas.

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  6. This is probably one of the best books I have read this year! And I have just recently finished Shift, just as gripping! Cannot wait for the third instalment later this year.

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  7. This one has gone straight on to my wishlist. I'm a particular fan of well-written fantasy/dystopia, and this sounds right up my alley!

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  8. How have I not heard of this? I'm a huge fan of post-apocalypse fiction. I'm definitely going to have to check it out now. Thanks for your great review and for bringing it to my attention!

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  9. I am so happy to have discovered "Wool"... It has revived in me a love of reading that I thought I'd lost. Thank you, Hugh Howey.

    Irene (Tactical Gunstocks Accessories)

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