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She went down the 9,999 steps, forgot the dog, went back up the 9,999 steps......
on 1 April 2014
Wool is set in an apocalyptic future. In a world smothered in toxic fumes we are introduced to the inhabitants of a silo which extends over a hundred storeys down into the earth. A world where people are divided into castes according to their occupations. A world where survival is dependent upon rigidly enforced discipline, where transgression is punished by being forced into the hostile external environment and a swift death.
Wool started life as a series of self published novellas, and it origins show in the episodic feel of the early chapters where we are introduced first to Sheriff Holston, and then to mayor Jahns, who strut and fret their hours upon the stage and then are heard no more. After their departures the rest of the book is given over to Juliette, a mechanical engineer in a world run by IT, and her literally star-crossed lover, Lukas.
As the novel progresses,the true nature of the world is slowly revealed as Juliette goes through a series of physical trials before finally confronting her blandly evil nemesis, the terrifyingly named........ Bernard.
There is much to be admired about Wool. It is an original concept (putting aside thoughts of HG Wells' molochs) and a well realised world. However, for me it somehow didn't really work. I think I can work out why it doesn't from one of the positive reviews. The Daily Express is quoted as saying that it is one of dystopian fiction's masterpieces alongside the likes of 1984 and Brave New World. Therein lies the problem. Those works were, like all great speculative fiction, like Philip K Dick, allegorical, using a world of fantasy to comment on contemporary society, or on some facet of human nature.
Wool doesn't do that. It is purely a work of world building, and as such, needs to stand on its own. Seen through that lens, the holes start to appear. The physical environment is 130 storeys deep. Lets say what,12ft a tier, thats 1560ft. Why does its take days to walk up or down ? Why just one staircase? Why are the farms so far from the surface? Why are there no lifts? The closer one looks, the less coherent the narrative becomes, and above all, one question, everybody ejected for crimes dutifully cleans the sensors which enable the inhabitants to see outside, before dying. WHY? The explanation given doesn't make any sense. Which is problematic for something so central to the plot.
The writing style didn't engage me either. First it needs a damn good editor, there is just too much mundane detail. Secondly the narrative switches between different observers, with virtually every one ending on a cliffhanger. Eventually that destroys rather than creating tension. Thirdly Juliette's adventures get repetitive. She does something dangerous. Initially all goes well. Then something goes wrong. Then by superhuman effort she gets out of it. Finally, the slow reveal of what is going on didn't create any tension for me. I just found myself thinking, "Oh for goodness sake explain your scenario, then get on with the story.
So, its ok. It's not a light read, it's fairly grim, there are some interesting ideas, but it could do with being more coherent, and with moving more quickly. In the end its a bit of a shaggy dog story, a lot of repetitive detail, but not quite worth the pay off in the end. It's definitely not 1984 or Brave New World, more like Logans Run written with vague memories of having read Lord of the Flies at school.