We’ve all heard by now about the success of the latest e-book indie darling, Hugh Howey—when his self-published Kindle series became a Kindle best-seller, he made a deal with the big publishers—but in a ground-breaking twist, the deal included only the print rights, and Howey continues to sell the e-books himself. Howey is also notoriously anti-DRM and I dig that, so I finally picked up the Wool Omnibus to see if it was worth the hype. And for the most part? It is.
The book is split into five novellas, each taking place in an apocalyptic future where the remains of humanity survive in an elaborate community based inside a large underground silo. Their only link to the outside world is a series of cameras mounted on the silo’s surface. When the cameras become dirty from the dust and poison of the outside, they all go a little stir-crazy with cabin fever, and the next unfortunate law-breaker is sent out in a form of capital punishment to do a ‘cleaning.’
In the first novella, the silo sherriff, who has been grieving the loss of his wife in a past ‘cleaning,’ contemplates joining her in her fate, and so sets in motion the remainder of the saga. The second story focuses on the silo’s mayor, who treks into the ‘down deep’ levels to interview Juliette, the sheriff’s replacement. She is one of many central characters who drive the rest of the narrative as heroes and villains emerge from unexpected places. To say more would spoil a suspenseful and ultimately satisfying story. There are so many twists and surprises here that I really can’t say more, other than that I hope Hugh is planning plenty more sequels.
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In a story like this, the setting is almost a character in and of itself, and Howey does a great job making the silo seem real. One interesting example is the way hierarchical classes are established based on their location within the silo. The sheriff’s office, like that of the mayor, is ‘up top.’ Various plebians occupy the mid-levels (they think they are up-toppers, even though the up-toppers would beg to differ), and the down-deepers have all the grubby jobs like farming and repairing the machines. They very seldom venture up top, for obvious reasons! When the head of IT protests the mayor’s choice for new sherriff, it’s snobbish virtual racism more than anything else—she’s a down deeper! We wouldn’t get a sheriff from there…
The book is grim in places, with much violence, a high body count, and characters who suffer unjustly, both through the flaws of others, and through their own actions. But the writing is beautiful. This is one of a handful of self-published books I’ve read that I would truly say is not just an adequate diversion but is actually the real deal. This one has stuck with me in the days since I finished it, and it’s a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to others.
A prequel, Shift Omnibus, has just been released. It’s next on my list. But I hope Howey returns to the aftermath of this first Silo story and tells us what happened next. I’d love to revisit these wonderful characters again and learn more about them.