Author: Hugh Howey
Publisher: Broad Reach
Format: Electronic (Kindle)
I am late to the game in discovering Hugh Howey’s Wool series. The premise is that in a post-apocalyptic future, citizens live in a silo that extends many levels below the earth. Their only interaction with the outside world is through a camera that overlooks the decayed landscape.
The first volume is the shortest, with a word count that categorizes it as a novelette (~12k words). The story is straight-forward. Holston, the sheriff of the underground city, spends years watching criminals and willful participants climb the grated steel steps to the outside world. Their death sentence serves an even higher motive than justice — to clean the dust and grime off of the camera lens before succumbing to the toxic air.
Holston cringes when his wife, Allison, utters the binding and fateful words, “I want to go outside.” It’s not a passing thought to make such a statement, but a legal contract of sorts, and her utterance places her in the queue to die, cleaning the camera lens. As Holston argues with her, he learns that she has become absolutely convinced that their worldview is a farce — that the outside world is no longer toxic and that a march up the fateful steps is actually a march to freedom. She has evidence to prove it and is convinced she will see Holston there one day. Three years after her death (escape?) is where this story takes place and Holston contemplates climbing these steps, not knowing what result it will bring.
This story (and the following series) has gotten glowing reviews. I will say that they are justified — to a point. What you shouldn’t expect with Wool is a literary masterpiece or a story that transcends the current trend of dystopian fiction. In many ways this is just another post-apocalyptic novel. What you get in the first volume is a gripping narrative that hooks the reader from beginning to end. Each word and each page are devoured to answer one question — is the outside world deadly or not? There are a few characters that we begin to learn and appreciate, some of which continue into the subsequent series.
The title of the series, for which there is no better name, is taken from steel wool, which is used by the criminals in their penetrable HAZMAT suits to clean the lens. The first story is really just a hook for the following books in the series. It answers one big question, but leaves many more remaining. It is a good story in its own right and accomplished with me just what it is intended to do — get the reader to go buy additional books (#1-5 are collected in an omnibus edition). It took me less than a minute to do so.
For those who enjoy dystopian fiction or have a curiosity for the psychology and political interaction of people when they are thrown into desperate situations, this is the book for you. Hey, the first book is free, so give it a shot. But I must warn you — you likely won’t stop there.