on 15 June 2013
Life is good in the silo. The people are friendly, food is plentiful, healthcare is readily available when needed. Those in charge are democratically elected and take their office on the top floor. A skilled IT department keeps channels of communication open throughout. And the whole silo is kept ticking over by the engineers in Mechanical, deep in the belly of the Earth. Just one look at the screens projecting video images of the bleak, uninhabitable landscape outside, and the inhabitants of the silo know how good they've got it. There are always some crazy folk who question this from time to time. How did the silo get here? What exactly is out there, out of view of the lens? These ungrateful dissenters are punished by being cast out with a woolen cloth to clean the cameras so that everyone else can continue to enjoy the view - fated to certain death. But one day sheriff Holston, the sensible and much-respected warden of the silo, joins the dissident ranks and chooses to go outside. This sets in motion a chain of events that shake the foundations of the entire community.
Wool is actually an omnibus of five short stories that were originally published separately but you can barely see the joins. I can see how books one and two worked as standalone novellas, but by the time you hit book three everything merges seamlessly. And it's a good job, too, because had I been reading this at the time of publication I don't think I would have been able to bear sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happens in the next installment! He spins a hell of a yarn.
Howey has created such a unique and intricate setting in the silo. It's fascinating to have the whole world condensed into one single underground warren. He clearly has a good understanding of sociology and politics, and deftly illustrates both the physical and social hierarchies that exist between the different cliques of inhabitants.
I also particularly appreciated the effort put into characterisation. Howey flits between different points of view but each individual is so well-developed that I was reluctant to leave them behind when it came to the next chapter. So many favourites - Holston, heartbroken after the death of his wife. The wise Mayor Jahns. Feisty mechanic Juliette. Old Walker, the reclusive electrician who's a secret genius.
I'm so glad I picked this up as it's a really satisying tale to get tangled up in. I certainly feel that Wool deserves the great reviews it has received and would be enjoyed by many readers, even those who aren't usually attracted to sci-fi/dystopian fiction.
I try to only give 5 to books I really feel are original, powerful, hard to put down, with well-written characters.
And yes, Wool is all of these things. I love the title, which takes on more than one meaning as the layers of the story are uncovered. I loved the gradual reveal of the truth of the lives the characters are living and the way I can picture the silo and the long, long walk from one end to the other. I love the way characters you were feeling strongly sympathetic towards were suddenly and brutally despatched.
But most of all, the story. Something has happened to our world. It must have done. A group of people are living in a 160-floor silo under the ground, have never left, work and rest and live within its confines. Segregated into sections within their own society, this group has classes - those closest to the top being the white collar classes, the mechanics keeping it all together being the 'working stiffs' in the depths.
Order must be maintained. And so every few years a dissenter/rule breaker is found guilty and sent out to 'clean' - clean the camera lenses that act as the only window on the world the silo inhabitants possess.
It is only after one such cleaning, of the silo's much respected widower Sheriff, that repressed feelings begin to bubble to the surface as a mechanic from the depths, Juliette, is offered the vacant post.
Very cinematic, you can picture the setting, the characters, clearly. It's a wonderful dystopian fiction that is frightening in the realism it contains: how this really COULD happen to us.
Juliette is a wonderful female role, an Ellen Ripley / Katniss Everdeen heroine, surrounded by a full complement of society's inhabitants. The book is long, but once you see more of the overall picture of Howey's, it's a story you relish will take 500 pages. And of course. It's a series, and ends on a note that leads you to want to follow the story further.
Don't be put off by the length, Wool is worth getting tangled up in.
Wool has been an amazing experience, the book started out for me as one mans emotional turmoil in a desolate world. It then led me to see and then feel the inner workings of the power structure of the Silo. All of this was engaging as a story, but it wasnt until the screen was peeled back that you began to see and experience the true 1984 style control surrounding the lives of everyone in the silo.
The Silo is one huge air tight world, an organism that functions only as long as every part functions properly, as long as there is a back up ready to take its place or to fix a problem. Disease cannot be allowed to fester and ideas are a disease. This is a world of do your job, live your life and don't question the world at large. This is how the end of the world looks and it's a scary sight.
This story is high tension, high stress and a bloody scary look at humanity in a confined space. It's not a book I can say I loved, but its a book I can say made me think and think and think, its a book you experience as much as you read it. I would highly recommend this book to all readers
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.
on 21 June 2013
I picked up Wool after hearing many good things about it.
I really like the basic idea of the Silo (an underground bunker which the remnants of humanity live in hundreds of years in the future) and the possible world beyond it. The mystery of this world is what kept me turning pages - I was intrigued by the overall concept and eager to find out more about the silo and how it came about.
However, in many ways the book was disappointing. The characters were very thin, with the exception of Juliette, who was the one character I cared about. Aside from her we have a pantomime villain and, in my opinion, a very unlikeable love interest.
The central love story seemed utterly unbelievable to me. The male character at first seems to be some sort of cool, enigmatic stranger but pretty soon seems to have turned into an annoying, angst-ridden, easily-led dimwit. Why on earth would a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman fall for this guy?
The other main issue was that the book had very long passages which were intended to be tense situations but which in fact were incredibly boring. These usually involved a character having to work out some intricate combination of electronics to make something work or go through a painstaking number of steps to remove protective clothing (imagine a very slow moving Houdini with a toolkit). One scene in particular, set in water, seemed to go on forever, with absolutely no tension because the character was obviously going to be fine.
Finally, I don't often see twists/surprises coming in books but there is one "reveal" very near the end which had me cringing due to its obviousness.
Overall, the thin characters and love story makes me think this would have been a good young adult title... but for the fact that it is far too long and slow. Unfortunately, the sometimes clunky writing prevents a nice scenario from becoming interesting.
This book started out well - an intriguing concept (people living below ground, a hostile environment outside (or is it?), control, duplicity, lies, secrets) ... However, while I was expecting this to pan out into a Brave New World/ Lord of the Flies type scenario (i.e. some intelligent comment on how communities survive and evolve in isolation and the impact of discovering they've been lied to), the book veered off into an 'action adventure'.
Except it wasn't very exciting action - there was a lot of running up and down the silo steps, a lot of almost-dying by the female lead and long, boring sections on getting mechanical gadgets, radios, pumps and suchlike to work. This wasn't an intelligent novel and, because of this, the author missed a trick. More of a spoiler here ... but when Jules encounters Solo in Silo 17, we're expected to believe that an old bloke who's lived most of his life in isolation would be as sentient and understandable as he is. Unlikely! He'd have been pretty feral. Same goes for the other, younger survivors. To me, this would have been the most interesting aspect to explore - the effects on people when their own societal structure has broken down. But now, instead these people are also pulled into the author's favourite activities of running up and down stairs and getting equipment and pumps to work.
By the end, I just couldn't care less about any of the characters or the world of the silos. I certainly won't be hurrying to read the next book for more of the same.
on 19 October 2013
As a huge fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature, I came to Wool by Hugh Howey with high hopes. The book has been lavished with praise since it's episodic release as a self-published e-book and has garnered massive numbers of positive reviews across the net. I am saddened to report that the hype sucked me in and I was expecting much more than what I got. Although I have tried to keep them to a minimum, his review may contain minor spoilers, so read with caution.
Set in an underground silo hundreds of years in the future, the story follows a number of main characters. A huge concrete tube has been burrowed into the earth and inside it thousands of survivors subsist in relative comfort. They have numerous different levels in which to live, specialising in farming, mechanical, bazaars, child-care and many more. The story follows the unravelling of the silo community as a number of dark secrets are slowly revealed to its residents.
As already mentioned, the book was originally released in episodes via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. This is evident during the first two chapters of the book which are quite different in tone and approach to the main chunk of the story. First we follow the sheriff, Holston, as he voluntarily sacrifices his life in order to brave the toxic 'up top' atmosphere in order to ensure the silo continues to maintain a live feed of the desolate outside landscape. Upon Holston succumbing (with a twist) to the hazardous toxins outside, we briefly trek the silo with the aged mayor Jahns and her old flame as she searches for a suitable replacement. Until she dies as well. The majority of the book thereafter follows the newly elected sheriff, Juliette, as she acclimatises herself with her new role, finds her self in trouble and is then cast out of the silo to die. She doesn't, though, and much action and revelation follows.
I think the book's episodic nature shines through despite the amalgamation into one full tome and found this jarring, especially at the start of the book with the rapid turnover of characters. I think the short story that starts the book was originally meant as a standalone short with no further progression until the book's success convinced the author to expand it into a full-length novel. The author has since made a shedload of cash from his story and even sold the film rights to Ridley Scott, the former sci-fi master who more recently sullied the Alien franchise with the release of Prometheus. I, personally, however, feel that the promising foundation of the book did not have the scope to fill a full-length novel, never mind a trilogy - a word that sends shivers down my spine when associated with modern literature. There is a short peak in the middle of the book, around the time of the big reveal involving Lukas and Juliette's first steps in the outside world, that grab your attention and force you onwards, but unfortunately they are drowned out by uninteresting filler. Soon after these riveting scenes the book descends into a pretty poor action segment as the uprising begins, for me at least, at the drop of a hat.
Howey has a tendency to overwrite much of his narrative. This leads to overly long and repetitive descriptions of mundane actions such as climbing or descending the silo's stairs, pains in the thighs from these ascents/descents, in-depth mechanical explanations, and even a huge paragraphs about air bubbles in an underwater scene near the end of the book. One thing that grated on me is how Howey regularly uses more than one metaphor/analogy to describe a single item, action or object. A flooded staircase, for example, is described thusly: 'that tall column of water, that flooded straw, that sunken stairway' which to me is needlessly wordy. A more choosy editor could likely have shortened this effort dramatically and made the delivery far more punchy. Another thing I found grating was Howey's insistence on using mechanical terms in metaphors/analogies. I can see why he did this, what with most of the characters being mechanics, but most of his choices often seemed amateur and weak. A dog wagging its tail is lengthily likened to an air-filled hose flopping around the floor having been dropped - the wagging of the dog's tail is inconsequential, why go into such detail about it in the first place?
I had other problems with what I was reading that weren't related to the author's choice of language. Your suspension of disbelief will be tested to its limits. The love interest that a large portion of the story hinges on is unbelievable love-at-first-sight guff reminiscent of a pulpy Mills and Boons style tale. The residents of the silo, despite having spent hundreds of years underground, deprived of much of the knowledge and literature we currently possess, acted as normally as any sane aboveground person living today. Surely, given the fact that the residents of the silo believe elephants to be imaginary beasts, they would act and behave far differently to present day people and be far more ignorant in many, many ways? Not so. In one moment, reminding me of the roundly slated film Battlefield Earth, a mechanic fathoms an unfamiliar piece of complicated radio tech he has never seen before in a matter of days, in the process coming to a very astute and inexplicable observation regarding the waves they pick up. The biggest clanger Howey drops, however, is the notion that the lower levels of the silo would be much colder than the higher levels. This completely overlooks geothermal gradiation which dictates that the farther one burrows into the earth, the higher the temperature becomes. The silo is described as an impossibly huge structure; the bottom layers would likely be a number of miles underground and have to face problems with crippling heat not debilitating cold. This anomaly renders one important scene towards the end of the book embarrassingly inaccurate. As the book can be found in the hard science category on Amazon, I doubt I am the only person to be irked by this mishap.
Although the novel wasn't god-awful, I was expecting much, much more from it. I can't quite understand the rave reviews the book has received. I myself have little inclination to read the other parts of the trilogy. Did the Wool story really need to be spread out over three books? Could some of the filler have been shaved from this tome and the ideas of the other two novels condensed into one large book in the vein of King's IT, for example? I struggle to see where the story could go from here that could warrant a further two releases and, if I'm honest, I'm not likely to find out, either. Unfortunately, Wool was just not to my tastes.
In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo's rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.
So I'm aware that this was originally written in parts and this is the whole brought together in one volume - I am actually immensely grateful that this did not appear on my radar earlier because it would have driven me absolutely insane to have to wait for each new instalment - ok I am pretty insane most of the time anyway, but still.
Wool is that rarest of things - a completely character driven dystopian novel. Its a beautifully written one at that. The pace is fairly slow but oh so compelling - as we meet various characters living in the Silo, a lot of whom for one reason or another start to doubt the facts they have been living with. Endlessly fascinating, this little snapshot of a life led in one place and in one way, following very specific rules whose purpose seem to have been lost in the mists of time, its a living breathing thing.
Of course that is not all there is to it by any means. The world building here is also superb but rather than extensive descriptive passages, we see pretty much all of it through the eyes of our characters - as they move through the various levels of the Silo and a wider picture emerges. The various aspects of the life they lead, the social structures and different communities that make up the whole. Some familiar themes are woven into the narrative - power, responsibility, rebellion and realisation - at times its emotive stuff - you will come to know these people well.
As our protagonists start to learn more about the realities, what came before, what is being hidden, it is absolutely addictive - I could barely put it down. Absolutely brilliant writing.
I am so pleased that I still have two more novels to go - I believe the next one is in the way of being a "prequel" and that the last will pull all the various strands of the tale together. I can't wait to see the whole picture. I really can't. Highly recommended.
Happy Reading Folks!
on 7 August 2015
Hugh howey is an amazingly gifted storyteller. His Silo series is quite possibly the most stunning story I have ever read. I expect it to be translated into Danish one day, and when it does, it will be my gift of choice to every friend and relative of mine regardless of age, reading preferences and actual wishlists.
I picked Wool, as something extra along with some books off my wishlist on Amazon. That in itself is something I rarely do - choose a book randomly, just because there might be something about it. I received it, noticed the size of it and left it on the shelf for more than a year, before randomly deciding to give it a try regardless of it being a rather lengthy read.
I loved Wool instantly although at first I had no idea where it was heading. I also placed an immediate order for the rest of the series, to make sure I would be able to continue reading the rest of the story without having to wait while the next books was being shipped.
I love the way the characters were introduced individually and how well-developed they are. I liked Juliette the best, she is a wonderful choice for a heroine, in parts because she is courageous, smart, tough and very likeable, but even more so, because she is an awesome character, who happens to be female.
I love the world building, and while I wouldn't want to live in it, I found the world to be both original and very believable.
I loved the pacing. This story is just so perfectly balanced and nothing in it seems left to chance. Where too much slow pacing would usually annoy me, Howey seems to use the slower pace as a means to graciously make room for the world to develop and for the characters to grow. In combination with a very gripping plot and a grim take on our not so distant future this makes for an amazing and very much unput-downable story, regardless of the story been slow-paced at times, or maybe even more so because of the brilliant change in pacing throughout the story.
It has been 6 months, since I read this series, and even though I have read a lot of books since then, I can't quite forget about this one. I keep comparing other books to this series, expecting to like them as much. And I do sometimes find books that I like a lot, some very much so, just not for the same reasons. That is, of course, the great thing about reading, that there are in fact plenty of great books to choose from, and plenty of oppotunities to find new favorites. It's just that in a way I wish I were only just now entering the world of Wool for the first time, still unaware of what a precious book I had just opened. Because the series is that good!
Obviously I recommend this book - as well as the rest of the series - to anyone, especially those who appreciate great storytelling!
Wool was just about the S-L-O-W-E-S-T book I've ever read. There was such a LOT of things happening slowly, people suffering even more slowly and, unfortunately, IMHO, the author fell into the trap of making a book about dreary things happening completely dull and dreary to read.
There was repetition piled on repetition. Juliet almost BUT NOT QUITE dies four times (I think - it could have been five but I wasn't listening that closely and might have missed one). She almost (but not quite) suffocates twice, almost (but not quite) drowns once and is almost (but not quite) burnt to death once. Some people might suggest that coming so very close to death at least four times is not really 'clever' of her. By the time she was almost (but not quite) dead the (hopefully) last time, I wanted to throw myself down the stairs - and there's lots of THEM in the book, too. And plenty of chapters devoted to each exhausting, painful, tedious footstep.
Hugh Howie likes telling us about stairs. Walking up them (painfully), running down them (equally painfully), Collapsing (painfully) onto them. For page after page.
I concede that it could have been the audio version that was poor - I'm sure if I'd been reading the book I'd have skipped great chunks where NOTHING happened - all that going up/down stairs? However, the narrator's voice was not well-suited to the book as she had a nice, standard English accent which lapsed into a rather unpleasant mid-Atlantic drawn when speaking as the characters. WHY?? Was no USA narrator available? This was a constant irritation to me.
Overall, there were bits I liked and bits I decidedly did NOT like. I enjoyed the beginning and the ending, I just wish I hadn't had to climb all those interminable stairs in between!