I don’t often gush about books, especially post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian ones. I know those are all the rage these days, but I normally prefer the fictional worlds I escape into to be a little less dark. But this one I’m going to warn you up front about: there will be a little bit of gushing here about Wool.
Wool is a page-turner, but not in the cliché, “I just couldn’t put it down” way. It was more of an, “Ok, I’m going to put this book down and think about it a while before devouring some more pages” kind of way. And I adore books that make me think. That’s the main reason why my preferred genres are sci-fi and mystery. I like wondering how they made a new technology, figuring out the motivations of the characters, exploring new social structures, and the classic case of whodunit.
Originally written in five separate self-published novellas by author Hugh Howey, Wool, and the sequel I am now plunging through just as rapidly, have made quite the sensation. I’m probably rather late to the game with this review, as I am with most TV, movies and books – I’m a busy person who tends to wait until such things are free or discounted anyway (for me that means available on Amazon Prime, or as a library download). Or, in the case of this book, I wait until several friends have insisted it’s soooo good and I just have to read it. And they were right.
This book is both a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel and a mystery, so it was particularly irresistible for me. I won’t give away any of the mystery bits here – no spoilers – but will give you some of the basics. Humans are living in a massive underground silo after some disaster made the Earth uninhabitable. They’ve been down there for a long time, somewhere in the hundreds of years range.
Howey breaks the standard storytelling mold of modern bestsellers and gives us some wonderfully three-dimensional, realistically flawed, and very likeable protagonists. Starting with the young-ish sherriff, his aging deputy and equally aging mayor, the focus of the story gradually shifts over to a brilliant mechanic and her counterpart, a younger man in IT with divided loyalties.
I love that the story doesn’t follow a single person, and that we get to know the characters so well and so quickly. It’s also refreshing to read dystopian fiction that’s (for once) not about angst-riddled teenagers or people killed for sport.
The mystery part is drawn out in an agonizingly good way. I desperately wanted to know what the big secrets were – how they got into the silo, what was outside the silo, what caused the destruction in the first place, who was keeping the secrets and why. Some of those questions I will have to finish reading the sequel to finally find answers to, and some of them were answered by the end of Wool.
The worldbuilding in Wool is fantastic and detailed. Really deep thought and imagination went into how a society with fixed resources would function – things like the lotteries for having children because the population has no way to expand; apprenticeships (shadowing) being a necessity of life to train the next generation; a complex system for currency, goods and services; paper and wood being exotic and expensive, and how very tough travel is in a massive place where there are lots and lots of stairs, but no elevators.
There’s also an interesting social structure ranked by the floor you live/work on: the topside folks, mid-levels, and ‘downbelow’ types stratified into classes where the higher up you live, the more highly you’re regarded.
And of course most of the action and conflict center around how you keep people from going crazy or breaking all the rules in place to keep order in such a place.
What I particularly loved about reading this book is how deeply I got into the heads of the characters and their world. I wondered what I would do in their shoes. I thought about where I would fit into that society. I like it when a book makes me do that.
Overall, an excellent read and I’ll post another review when I’m done with Shift and have had some time to absorb it.
Have you read this book? What did you think?