“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death”
Wool is a post-apocalyptic epic that’s been refered to as the sci-fi answer to 50 Shades Of Grey. That’s not because it has terrible writing and contains fisting but it originated as a self-published ebook that was a scant 60 pages. After finding an audience and a major publisher, Howey was then able to flesh out the story into a full 500 page action thriller.
Wool depicts a futuristic world in which the Earth has been scorched and rendered uninhabitale with the last surviving humans living in a gigantic underground silo. Within the silo, the denizens can view the world through a huge projector that shows the lifeless wasteland that exists on the surface.
This new society is a functional democracy with an elected mayor, sheriff and deputy although there is a caste system in place where the wealthier and influential residents lives in the upper floors and the labourers who power the generators live in the lower recesses.
Although there is a free market economy where the residents can purchase items with chits, there are harsh restrictions on companionship to maintain a sustainable populace and subsequently the residents must apply for a lottery to have children. The harshest form of punishment issued by the law is to be sent out of the silo for ‘cleansing’. Those who do so typically only last a few minutes before they are fatally overwhelmed by the toxic fumes.
It’s worth noting that the narrative structure of Wool is a short story bolted on to the front of a 400 page thriller. Instead of giving the story a disjointed feel, what it does is give a quick exposition that establishes the world inhabited by the characters and then it promptly pulls the rug out from underneath the reader when we move into the full story. As the society in Wool slowly descends into chaos, characters begin to fall at an alarming rate and it keeps the reader on their toes as to who will survive.
Wool quickly branches out with an ensemble cast, each chapter shifting between the fortunes of several different characters. There’s Mayor Jahns, a well liked woman who runs the silo. Marnes, the deputy sheriff who may or may not be romantically linked to the mayor. Juliette, a newly promoted sheriff whose curiousity and inquisitive nature lands her into trouble. Bernard, a Machiavelian leader from the technology sector who holds many secrets. Lukas, a nerdy ne’er-do-well who gets in over his head. Knox, a beefy labourer who works with the power generators. And Walker, a crusty old invalid whose experience and paranoia will shape the fortunes of everyone when the time comes.
On face value, Wool is an excellent and suspenseful thriller that throws dramatic plot twists and unveils new secrets at an unrelenting pace. Structurally, its rewarding to read a book where the reader is empowered with plenty of knowledge and a lot of the fun derives from waiting for the characters to catch up with what we already know.
Howey writes Wool with a broad audience in mind. The story is generously packed with drama, suspense, action and romance. Plenty of chapters end on a cliffhanger and his prose is accessible, imaginative and vivid.
Like the best science fiction stories, there is plenty of social and political commentary bubbling underneath the surface of Wool. The manner in which fear is used to contain the populace, mankind’s relationship with technology and nature, gender politics etc. These things are all integral concepts that are explored within the narrative.
Without spoiling any of the details, Wool ends with plenty of room to explore its universe in greater detail. If anything, despite its 500 pages, it feels as though Wool is only the tip of the iceberg. Which is why it was pleasing to learn that Mr Howey has a trilogy planned. In fact he has already begun releasing chapters of the second book online. The next omnibus is expected to be published in old fashion print in mid 2013.
Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert.
“I was born inside the movie of my life”