Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 155-160,000 words
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After spending time sailing, captaining yachts, and performing other boating jobs, Hugh Howey settled in Boone, NC with his new wife, who had managed to lure him away from his “vagabond ways.” He is the author of several books including the Molly Fyde series. For more, visit Howey’s website.
“This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.”
Although available as separate, progressively larger volumes, the first five books of the Wool series are also available as a combined (omnibus) edition, reviewed here.
I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about this series with virtually everyone who read it having great things to say. Finally, I decided I needed to see the reason for all the fuss. It didn’t take long for Wool to sink its hooks in me. At the end of the short first volume (just called Wool), I wanted more. Although the story comes to a reasonable conclusion, I wanted to find out what happened to the characters next and learn more about the world they lived in. When I finished and evaluated why Wool appealed so much to me, I had a list of four main things: world building, characters, the appeal of dystopian fiction, and some cautionary tales or potential lessons.
The story takes place in the distant future in an underground “silo” that is almost 200 levels deep. Howey does a great job of quickly establishing the basics of his story world, its culture, and history. Our knowledge of the world expands as the series progresses (learning more about the world and wanting to know more is part of the appeal). We learn about this world through normal, realistic dialogue (both spoken and internal), actions of characters, and narrative that is interspersed at appropriate times. The danger many authors fail to avoid in describing a world as complex as this is to dump too much information too fast and in ways that feel forced. That was never a problem for me with Wool.
Howey’s characters are nuanced, neither totally good, nor completely bad. For example, Juliette, who first appears in volume II and figures prominently from that point on, is one of the “good guys,” yet she has some negative qualities. Another major character, Bernard, appears bad, almost evil at times, yet as you understand his motivations and history more clearly, our judgment of him gets murkier.
According to Wikipedia, a dystopia “is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.” Dystopian fiction appeals to readers with classics like 1984 or more recent hits such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Mockingjay, or the Divergent Trilogy being prime examples. Although I’m sure there are many reasons, one obvious reason for their appeal is that they typically depict the human spirit as strong enough to deal with these less than ideal futures. The more it feels like the world is headed in this direction, the more we may have the need to convince ourselves that we could still survive.
Besides the obvious lesson to take away from any dystopian fiction, that it would be better to prevent the world from reaching this point, I think Wool has other lessons, or at least food for thought, about how it is possible to become indoctrinated, and why questioning widely held beliefs might be healthy.
Some adult language.
No significant issues.
Rating: ***** Five stars