Book Review: Wool

Wool, by Hugh Howey

As a fan (I suppose that might be the word) of post-apocalyptic fiction, and nonfiction [1], I was recommended this particular novel by a friend of mine with similar reading interests. It was a good recommendation, as this novel (which appears to have been the author’s debut novel, expanded from a novella) is a gripping and exciting tale of a claustrophobic view of life in fifty or so silos where the apparently lone survivors of mankind happen to live while the world around them recovers from a massively airborne toxic event. Given that context, where there is strict segregation between different levels of society (a few elites on the top floor, including the controlling IT folks who have taken it upon themselves to keep everything in order and to preserve the lies that undergird the silo society) by keeping the wool over everyone else’s eyes, those folks on the middle levels who work in areas like supply and agriculture, and those areas at the bottom like mechanical, responsible for keeping the pumps and other machines working.

The novel itself functions as a bit of a suspense thriller. The plot revolves around the transparently obvious desires of one man for ultimate power over Silo 18 (where most of the action takes place) and the bad things that keep happening to those who are too curious about his actions, including an alarmingly large number of “cleanings,” which amount to one of the forms of capital punishment. Unfortunately, one of the people refuses to clean and it sparks an attempted revolution that leads to massive consequences for Silo 18 and its neighbors, as well as the revelation of a larger outside world as well as the possibility for communication. This leads the characters to wrestle with the consequences of truth and lies and power and control, and also leads the author to reflect on the tendency for human beings to be ruled by fear and to underestimate the ability of others to cope with the truth.

Although Howey was not an experienced novelist, apparently, when this particular novel was released, it is an immensely accomplished work. The novel is full of strong characters with a great deal of nuance, and the world building is appropriately claustrophobic and drawn from the author’s experiences in ships (with their similar isolation and class separation). There are a lot of minor but telling details of pumps and emergency lights that make the silos appear to be very much like ships. This is a good way to imagine an unfamiliar and dark future world based on what one knows, and it will make a very good film if it ever makes it out of development limbo, as long as it has a good enough cast and script. There are also future novels of this series, which also appear to be worth reading. Given that this was a 500 page novel and reads very smoothly suggests this author has a bright future ahead of him as a novelist who manages to distill one’s nightmares into compelling prose. This is a high achievement worthy of high praise.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: Wool

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