Shift, by Hugh Howey
Having read the first volume of Hugh Howey’s massive and sprawling Silo series , I was intrigued to see where this particular book would take the post-apocalyptic story introduced in the five sections of “Wool.” Instead of providing a sequel, this particular volume, in 600 pages of dark and complicated and claustrophobic storytelling, manages to provide the context of the silos and the chilling way in which they were organized and built by an idealistic and married young Congressmen working as a protege to a corrupt Democratic senator for Georgia about twenty-five years in the future, and the plot hinges on a drastic attempt to reset the world and start it more or less from scratch, a sort of man-made plague of biblical flood proportions, with the consequences that people are expected to remain in the silos for hundreds of years, but have not handled matters particularly well.
This particular novel deepens our appreciation of the world, an excellent example of effective world building on the part of its author, by providing key context in several ways: the design and construction of the silos, and the Machiavellian scheming that went into their use with almost no warning. We see a would-be adulteress seeking to tempt a former lover, who wants nothing to do with her sexually and feels uncomfortable in her presence. We see a group of people who are supposedly in charge of the entire silo system who come to the belated conclusion that they will never be allowed to enter the new world after it ‘resets’ because of their role in creating the horror that led to the near-destruction of mankind. We see further information from the previous volume about the context of Silo 18’s “Great Uprising” as well as the lonely fall of Silo 17, as well as the problem of silo failures in general, and the strange way in which they were ranked for viability, even as the silos themselves show the signs of strain after being used for a couple of centuries.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is the concept of the “shift,” in which the supposed leaders of mankind-in-seclusion take turns in six-month shifts that lead to a great deal of mental and emotional stress on the part of the people involved, seeing as the stakes are the survival of humanity and the worry is that mankind will simply repeat the same mistakes over and over again. This particular novel, like its predecessor, asks a lot of thoughtful questions about human folly and the difficulty in motivating others to endure generations of hardship and privation while possessing enough wisdom and restraint to endure this for the sake of a better future for some. Ultimately, the curiosity of people and the knowledge that they possess because of quirky drug resistances leads to the potential of great trouble, and to the need to kill some in order to save the many in a state of societal forgetfulness. When men try to act like God, they don’t tend to do a very good job of it, and this novel is very sound in presenting the limits and the costs of the cosmic ambitions of technocratic and bureaucratic elites. It is a compelling and dark read, suitable for anyone who appreciates peering into the brutal face of those who would destroy a world to save themselves.