Title: Wool (1-5)
Author: Hugh Howey
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I skipped the Amazon Summary this time. You’ll see why.
1.) This review will be long. This story has triggered a LOT of thought and reflection.
2.) I will discuss serious spoilers at the end (though I’ll warn you again before I do), so if you haven’t read it, pay attention. One thing you DON’T want to do with Wool, is know all the twists and turns in advance because they are many and they are mostly very adept.
When I first picked up Wool, I’d heard that it was something of a phenomenon. I did not know anything about it other than that. And when I began Wool 1, I got about 20 locations in and put it down. I was so disinterested that I read an entire book in between. What a mistake! The (also widely touted) ya tome I chose instead was so annoying that I DNFed it. Wrote a tough review and then took it down deciding the DNF meant I just shouldn’t review it. Just wasn’t my cup o’ tea at ALL.
At which point I picked up Wool 1 and tried again. The first thing that struck me about Wool 1 was that it was a short story. I was perplexed (again, I mentioned that I knew nothing about it). But this time I pushed forward through the bits that had stopped me (more on this later) and found it to be a very well-crafted and enjoyable short story. It has all of the massive PUNCH in the GUT that a great short story should. Howey yanks you about on a cord until you’re as exhausted and devastated as his characters and you falter along with them, stunned by Howey’s surprise twist.
But where it could go from there was a mystery. It seemed distinctly over to me. So I picked up Wool 2 and was thrust into the world of Wool in more detail and with deeper characterizations that grabbed me. I was hooked, fascinated with the extraordinary world-building. There’s something magical about the way the characters wind down the great staircase and Howey shows you his world in spinning, gorgeous, heartbreaking 360. You could as easily call this one “The Descent” and get the heavy feeling that each tread places on the reader.
Even so, when I finished Wool 2, I thought, “What an excellent, subsequent short story.”
Then I picked up Wool 3 and it really took off because we TRULY meet Juliette. And. She. Is. AWESOME.
You all know I’m a stone-cold sucker for a kick-ass female MC and Wool’s Juliette delivers. My praise for Howey is in no small measure due to his decision to draw his “Bruce Willis” Die-Hard with ta-tas and a greasy wrench in her hand. FANTASTIC.
What I Loved – Not too many spoilers here…
Um, obv. Juliette. She’s an enigma in the very structured and orderly world of the silo. Rather than follow her proscribed path, her heart (and heartache) leads her into the down-deep, where she buries herself, quite literally, in Mechanics. She’s so at home among the oil and sweat and filth of hammering pistons and rattling bolts that in 20 years, she’s never climbed back up to see her father in the nursery. When her life intersects accidentally with the Mayor and Deputy of the silo, who live up-top and wish her to join them as the new Sheriff, her carefully constructed world falls apart.
But does she crumble? Does she fade? When she faces the most horrible possible ends, possible truths, not just for herself but for those whom she does love, her friends and family in the down-deep, what does she do? Well, I’m not going to tell you the specifics because I promised no spoilers yet, but let’s just say that if you count Juliette out, you’re a fool. She may very well be one of my top five favorite female MCs of all time. Seriously. For reals, yo’.
The Silo/World-Building – Wow. All I can say is “Wow.” Now THIS is world-building. I will admit, I have a few questions (as a sci-fi and apocalyptic nut) that I address below, but 99% otherwise is WOW. You can REALLY picture the silo, with the great spiral staircase twisting its way through the heart of the society, the levels all separate and orderly, their purpose and missions clear. It’s an extraordinary vision. I’ve read books that could not include enough adjectives to make the space they describe make sense to me…but Howey’s is as sharp as a movie in my mind. What’s most amazing is that he (almost always) manages to do so with a relative economy of description. (That being said, there is such repetition of the up-and-down of the stairs over the course of the entire Omnibus that he gets many opportunities to crystallize the vision.)
Twists and Turns – Howey delivers a ton of twists and turns and really gives you the sense of an overall mystery to be solved, “What’s real?” And, “How did we get here?” That’s what we always want to know in post-apocalyptics isn’t it? How did we get here? But the “What’s real?” part is an important piece of dystopians as well. It isn’t a “dystopian” unless there is some sort of lie or opacity that “keeps people in place”. You chase both of these questions in Howey’s story, following them up and down the stairs yourself until you’re ready to tear out your own hair. But he gives you just enough tid-bits to keep you hanging on and by the time you’ve fallen in love with several of the characters (not just Juliette), it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it doesn’t matter how he tugs your heart, you are GOING TO GET SOME ANSWERS!!! It’s great when an author can inspire the same feelings in you that he does in his characters.
Sideline - The tragic love of the Deputy and his Mayor in Wool 2 was one of my favorite things. This is one of the tenderest stories of “longing” I’ve ever read and the fact that it occurs between life-long friends who are also in the twilight of their lives makes it even sweeter. You’ve really done something exceptional with what is essentially a short story, when you can make your reader SOB for the protagonists after only just getting to know them. Truly.
Solo – I Loved Solo. He was a wonderful “story-within-a-story” because he was the human embodiment of what could and had gone wrong in the past. And yet you love him with a sadness usually reserved for children…and there’s a reason for that.
The Ending - Without saying more, I was satisfied with the way Howey wrapped it up. The only thing I would have liked is more information on some of “The Stranded” that isn’t given after Juliette’s departure (sorry to be cryptic, but saving spoilers for below), but I think Howey leads you to believe in Juliette, ultimately. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Analysis and Critique – SPOILER ALERT!
Now I’m going to discuss the things that caused reflection and a few that didn’t work so much for me. I have no idea if this interests anyone else, but it kind of interests me when other readers or authors share their thoughts like this…
Central premise of “How we got here”
When the true complete “reveal” is done of how the world had been destroyed save the 18 silos remaining (or however many), I…didn’t buy it.
I know! *Horrors* How can you recommend a story so highly when in the end, you don’t believe how it began? I don’t know. In some ways it doesn’t matter. (Funny, Bernard feels the same way, ick.) What does matter is the NOW that the characters live in. But I guess I should explain why I didn’t buy it, so here goes.
Lukas eventually figures out with Bernard’s guidance that the ancestors of those living in the silos had constructed them knowing the world was going to end because… *drum roll* …THEY BLEW UP THE WORLD ON PURPOSE.
Say what now?
And the because was the worst part. They blew up the rest of the species (and WORLD) because they wanted us to be homogeneous so we wouldn’t fight anymore…wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Say what now?
I have just some huge problems with this every which way…
1.) If you were going to try to save the species (albeit a homogeneous cross-section), you would need a LARGER FREAKING SAMPLE SIZE. Even if there are 100,000 among the silos (doubtful), that is not really a good enough number to ensure we’re gonna make it long-term, particularly given that…
2.) You have them all segregated so their gene pools are DIVERGING, not CONVERGING, relative to one another…so the whole plan to make people homogeneous? Not very effective, I guess, unless you only expect one silo to survive, in which case I’m back to Point 1.
3.) And it seems counter-productive to wipe the slate clean if in doing so you have to also destroy the environment that sustains our life. So there was no way to eliminate all the “unacceptable” people without destroying the world to a point that your “seeds” may NEVER be able to re-emerge? I’m sorry, I know it’s repetitive, but…
Say what now?
Finally, my other major issue with this “homogeneity is the goal” theory is that NOTHING about dystopia in general or Howey’s dystopia is homogeneous. The entire crux of tension in dystopias is the disparity between those in power and those without it. In fact, Howey’s silo is perfectly stratified and divided as a good dystopia should be. It’s believable as a dystopia.
But if the whole reason we ended up blowing up the world was to ensure homogeneity, to avoid giving people reasons to fight, then you would NEVER set up a society with such stratification and division. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s completely opposite to your supposed end-goal. (For example, they still have some weird, vague religion despite the fact that religion has led to many of the largest scale wars in human history. Wouldn’t the homogeneity-loving world-destroyers have outlawed religion?)
So the “How we got here” part didn’t work for me at all. I wish he’d have gone with a more traditional massive nuclear war or asteroid hit or something where there was some warning or prep-time and people with forethought gathered the best and brightest and/or took people by lottery. Something like that. But one small group destroying the entire planet so we can maybe, probably not, emerge as a happy, homogeneous family one day? Didnt’ cut it for me.
Reflection and Analysis
Howey loves a metaphor. Clearly when he began with Wool, he loved the double-entendre of the wool used by the cleaners and having the “wool pulled over one’s eyes”. But then he went on with a knitting metaphor as long as he could, which turned out to be 4 volumes. (The Stranded is pushing it…strands…)
He also uses the silo and seeds metaphor, which I did enjoy. When Solo starts asking Juliette what happens to seeds when they stay in their silos for too long, I thought, “Yeeeeeaaaaaahhhh, that’s a good point. They ROT.”
But one of the other things that they can do is SPROUT. And that is the true metaphor in this story to me…that the silos, which are supposed to be filled with quiescent seeds, keep SPROUTING with questions, with wonder, with desire, with frustration.
All I can say about this series is that I am SO glad I read it. The story is tremendous. I’m definitely going to read The First Shift (prequel). Maybe it will make me feel differently about the Gods of Shiva Howey suggested as Wool’s ancestors. Regardless, I’m willing to bet my sweet bippy that it will be a great read…