Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Wool by Hugh Howey

***SBRs 2nd Best Read for 2013***

Publication date:  25th January 2012
Published by: Broad Reach Publishing
Genre: Adult Dystopia / Sci-Fi 
Attention!  This novel is outstanding.

Wool was first published as a standalone novella in July 2011 by author Hugh Howey.  Howey had taken the self-publishing route and the story became so popular his fan base convinced him to write a series.  His collection of self-published novels sold by the hundreds of thousands before he was offered a book deal with publishers Random House on the strength of the Wool series.  He has also sold the movie rights to 20th Century Fox and Wool is set to become a movie to be produced by (none other than) Ridley Scott (director of the first Alien movie and more recently Promethius).
The omnibus edition (books 1-5) is described as the one for those who arrived late for the party.  I confess I am one of the late-arrivals but, in a way, I am glad since there is a benefit to reading them back-to-back (see below).

The setting is a futuristic post-apocalyptic society where humankind has been driven underground.  Not much is revealed about how this has come to be but it is clear that it was anticipated because preparation was made with the construction of ‘The Silo’, a structure that extends over 100 levels underground.  There is a class structure in the Silo where people closer to the surface tend to be running the place (political leaders and law enforcers), those on the middle are the supporting skilled workers (IT and maintenance) who aspire to be part of the group above them, and those in the ‘down deep’ (the mechanics) who do the manual labour and keep the mechanisms for access to essential resources in the Silo operational (such as the supply of electricity and water). 

The people in the Silo have by now lived there for several generations and, although not particularly oppressed, live under a dictatorship.  Their relationships between couples must be sanctioned and the population is controlled.  They are forbidden to speak of the outside and to do so is considered treason.  Breaking the law is punishable by what is referred to as ‘Cleaning’, where the accused is forced to go outside and window clean the external surface of the Silo, thus allowing a better view for those inside.  Once you’re sent out you can’t come back in and are left to perish.

I have deliberately focused on the background and refrained from going into detail about the actual plot because it is better to go in knowing as little as possible.  I can assure you Wool is an intriguing and gripping story. It incorporates a variety of genres including, crime thriller, mystery and sci-fi.  It is funny in parts and there is even some romance (just a little). There are so many strong characters in the book and you can’t help becoming attached to many of them.  Unfortunately, being dystopia, I think it is safe to say not everyone survives and you feel the loss of those who don’t make it.  

My feeling about dystopian novels is that, for them to work they need to be affecting, thought-provoking and slightly disturbing.  Wool manages all of these. The writing is exceptional and the fiction is incredibly imaginative.  I would say Hugh Howey’s greatest skill is keeping the reader hooked.  He is a master at creating cliff-hangers - hence the benefit of reading the complete series back-to-back.  If I’d had to wait for each novella to come out I am sure I would have gone crazy! 

Some have compared it to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins but I found myself drawing parallels with The Moon Dwellers by David Estes.  However, both these novels are pitched at teenagers and therefore, although both very good in their own right, are not as grown-up and lack the sophistication of Wool.

So, if you like grown-up dystopian sci-fi and you haven’t already, my advice is join the party!

My appeal to readers

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