Whether he intended to or not, Hugh Howey has become something of a mascot for the self-published author, and given the quality of his work then it’s not hard to see why.
Wool is the first in a dystopian trilogy following a colony of thousands living in an underground silo for hundreds of years. Why? Not sure. I assumed that it was some kind of global catastrophe, but having finished the book, I’m wondering if it’s something a little less straightforward . . .
As you can imagine, such an environment has to be rigidly controlled in terms of resource distribution and population growth, all of which is handled by the wonderfully sinister IT department, whose remit seems to extend much further than keeping the servers running. Their main function, as it turns out, is to deal with any dissent that threatens the order maintained in the silo.
Howey does a fantastic job of building a detailed, realistic environment which appears as vast as it does claustrophobic, and he does this without sacrificing the humanity of his characters. He moves from person to person, going into a great deal of internal dialogue that builds the characters, but also slows down the plot somewhat; it’s a tricky balance, and I’m not sure he’s got it right — for me at least.
Still, what you do get is very believable characters who you can empathise with; this includes the antagonists who dispatch citizens of the silo in ever-increasing numbers in order to maintain the status quo.
Even with some fairly lengthy exposition, the book cracks on at a blistering pace, and I have to say that it was genuinely difficult to put down. It doesn’t pack a lot of surprises, but it does leave a lot of questions unanswered which, I assume, will be picked up in later novels.
There are many similar books to this (City of Ember to name one), but Wool has more of a thriller feel to it; a real whodunnit and whydidtheydoit wrapped inside a large dark space.
Nine out of ten.