My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finished this book on the same day that the Wall Street Journal had a piece about author Hugh Howey’s “Underground Hit.” See that’s a joke because he’s making a fortune self-publishing it as an e-book and the story is about people living underground in a silo underground … oh never mind.
I enjoyed the piece, happy to see that a paperback version will be available soon, and Howey seems to be a savvy marketer. I can vouch for that because at the end of the book there is a Q&A set with him. Usually I don’t read those but I’m glad I did because not only is he funny, but because the book’s Epilogue follows. (Ha! He’s a tricksy one, he is.)
(I encourage y’all to go read the piece because Howey has accomplished that rare feat which is the dream of many … parlayed a successful e-book into a bargaining chip which is setting up movie deals, print publishing contracts, and more while retaining the digital rights. And he did it all while scrambling to keep his family fed. It was the excellence of his stories which made it all work.)
He is also a pretty good author, I’m happy to report.
The Wool Omnibus contains five novellas telling the story of a civilization existing within an underground silo with 147 floors. Sole access to the outdoors is a window aboveground which shows a dreary landscape littered with bodies here and there. That’s because the ultimate punishment is to be sent outside for Cleaning. Fitted out in a space suit, the condemned go out to clean the window so that everyone else can see the outside world. No one ever makes it much past that, collapsing from exposure to the toxic environment as they try to head over a hill for a better look at outdoors.
Major crimes involve things like the treason of mentioning Cleaning or wanting a change in one’s situation. The right to try to have a baby is determined by The Lottery. We can see that this is a bleak world both inside and outside the silo. With control this tight we aren’t surprised to see that something shady’s going on in the way things are run. Different characters discover a Big Secret and, as they act upon their knowledge, everything in the silo begins to unravel. As always in such situations, will our heroes be able to see that right prevails?
The initial tale, Wool, was followed by stories which are connected but told from different perspectives. I enjoyed the double entendre of naming subsequent stories with titles proper both to knitting and to the internal action (Proper Gauge, Casting Off, Unraveling, Stranded). The overall story is well told and I was intrigued both with different aspects of silo civilization and the answers to the many questions that pop up as the story develops. The five-story structure allows Howey to not only include cliff hangers, but to make many characters multi-dimensional, even the villains who you long to send for a good Cleaning.
I did feel that the fifth story, Stranded, was much too long. I could have done without some of the diving descriptions for one thing. That said, it may be that I missed important facts because I was reading so fast. The story weaves between three perspectives … or Strands – get it? … and each has a vital mystery to be solved.
I am not sure I’ll be interested in Silos, which is the set of prequel stories Howey has written. However, I enjoyed this so much that I am definitely going to be looking for more of his work.