Wool (Book Review)

Ashley, holding a copy of Wool by Hugh HoweyI wanted to review something unexpected. I wanted to be like, “Look at this awesome, avant-garde thing you’ve never heard of before.”

Instead, I recently caught up with the rest of the universe and read Wool by Hugh Howey. A lot of my friends had read (and liked) it on Goodreads, and it caught my eye at the store one day. (The cover is gorgeous, by the way. Just in case you wanted to judge it by what really matters.)

I liked the book. It’s fun to read sci-fi that isn’t in space nor optimistic about the future of the human race. (Even though I enjoy books that are optimistic and take place in space.) Our main characters live in the silo, and have for as long as history can remember. Holston, the sheriff of the silo, wants to leave the silo. Which, as it turns out, is punishable by death.

Spoilers under the jump, kids.

It’s five stories to be read as individual pieces (except they don’t actually read that way), et cetera — you’ve heard all that. So let’s skip to something interesting: endings.

The first two stories kill the viewpoint characters.

Holston dies on the hillside by his wife’s corpse, realizing at the last minute that the visor on his cleaning suit was a screen designed to make the grey and dead world look green and recovered. It’s a great death. Even though you see it coming in some ways, it’s still emotional and shocking.

The mayor (Jahns) climbs down to the bottom of the silo to recruit Juliette as the new sheriff, at the recommendation of the deputy (Marnes). She and the deputy are old flames, and their romance rekindles as they travel. Then she gets poisoned and dies. (Marnes dies in the beginning of the third story, the first one from Juliette’s point of view.)

It sets the mood for the story: this is not a place of happy endings. This world is broken. The silo is not a happy place, it is merely full of people who have never known anything else. The population of the silo is more scared of the murderous outside than they are of spending their lives underground. It’s the only reason the silo works. (Even then, the uprising of the previous generation reminds them that it doesn’t always work.)

Howey put a lot of detail into creating people who have evolved in their spirituality and language. They have a whole society with layers — literally, ahahahahaha — who are divided by the limitations of living in a 150-floor deep silo without an elevator. There’s class issues and political issues. And it’s all bleak. Between the setting and his clear comfort with callously murdering everyone just when they start to feel happy, the end is… disappointing.

In her very brief time as sheriff, Juliette sparks up the beginnings of a romance with a tech from the IT department (Lukas). She also runs afoul of the guy pulling the strings (Bernard, head of IT). She finds herself sent out for a cleaning (the silo’s method of execution) and through some trickery, survives outside long enough to find another silo.

LIKE A BOSS, Juliette survives in a silo where nearly everyone is dead, finds the communication devices, and proceeds to continue her romance with Lukas over the phone while trying to figure out how to get back to her own silo through the toxic environment. She learns some of the truth of the silos, and does more generally awesome things. I’m a fan of Juliette.

Without getting too much into it: She lives. Lukas lives. Bernard dies.

After so much death, destruction, and mayhem, it felt out of place. I understand from a narrative standpoint why she has to live in order to bring about Big Changes. But for the love interest to live didn’t seem so important. And then boom, she’s the sheriff. The people voted her in while she was in the hospital, because she was their first cleaner to return. Lukas and the new sheriff more or less have her back.

In a lighter book, I would have even been happy with that. Hooray! But I was all up on this hell-underground situation. There were so many bodies that at some point it stopped becoming a shock. There were literally so many dead people, in so many sad situations, that it just became the way their world is — covered in corpses.

Maybe that’s why Howey had to go happy-with-a-chance-of-future-horror in the end. The world was already sort of a shithole, so having it end with, “And the world continues to be awful,” is almost too much. But it felt like an action movie ending by all the bad guys sitting down with a mediator and talking it out. I get that there were larger implications, that it was this huge leap for the population of the silo — it wasn’t an unintelligent ending by any means. It just stuck out to me, and overshadows most of my HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP THIS IS INCREDIBLE feelings.

I just finished reading Shift, and it was… not as good, really. Much bleaker, but also not at gripping. Probably because I’m eager to see what Juliette does, and having to get through what felt like too much backstory wore me down.

I’ll get around to reading the final installment (Dust), but I’m not terribly optimistic that it’ll have the same HOLY CRAP WHAT IS HAPPENING effect as Wool.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.



  • Ted Boone says:

    Good review. I agree, Howey has his hands full trying to recapture the magic of Wool in the followup stories. I’m reading Dust now, and definitely interested in how he’s going to wrap all of this up.

    • Ashley Hill says:

      Yeah, Wool was amazing because it really did live up to the hype. And I really admire his world-building — it was in-depth but seemed almost effortless, which in and of itself had to be such a pain. :D

      I’ll probably read Dust when I finish my next book, but I’m not as optimistic as I was when I went in to Shift.

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