author Hugh C. HoweyWe’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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The Wool Omnibus by Hugh HoweyIn 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.

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  1. Wow. I think this may be the best book review you’ve done for us yet, Joanna. Really solid job. And I know this is a total cliche, but I rarely read a book review that makes me really, REALLY want to read the book being reviewed … but this review definitely had that effect on. I’ll be picking up a copy, for sure. You should tweet or email your review to Howey.

  2. Dan and Joanna, it is a good book. I picked it up last year when it was the Kindle Deal of the Day, and I really enjoyed it. Howey deserves every bit of success he’s gotten, and then some.

    Howey wrote last year that Ridley Scott is thinking about picking up the movie rights. I haven’t heard any more about it, but I hope it’s true. It would make a great movie.

  3. “but in a ground-breaking twist, the deal included only the print rights, and Howey continues to sell the e-books himself”

    It’s still fairly rare, but I don’t know that I’d call it “ground-breaking” as other authors have done it before him.

  4. I read it last year and thought the first four part were pretty good, especially when compared to the other indies. I could have seen it as a professional book with a little polish and tweaking. I would have given those sections four stars. However, the fifth part was a huge downgrade, for the most part, with one nice flourish, but otherwise it was in the dregs of two star quality. Because of part five, I’d give the overall rating just three stars.

  5. An amazing and humbling review. Thanks, Joanna!

    I’m just piping in to respond to a couple of comments, as I might be able to shed light on some questions.

    Juli Monroe: 20th Century Fox is attached to the deal. They flew me out to LA a few weeks ago, and everyone seems very excited about getting this on the big screen. These are never done deals, and I’ve been the first to urge caution and pessimism, but things are actually looking pretty good.

    Brian: There have been distribution deals with authors like John Locke and Max Tucker — and Bella Andre scored a similar deal with Harlequin a month or two prior to my deal — but industry insiders have commented on this being the first ever print-only deal from a major (Big 6/5) publisher. Steven Pressfield wrote an amazing analysis of the deal. Long, but well worth the read if you’re interested in these sorts of things:

  6. @Hugh, I guess Bella’s deal was primarily the one I was thinking of. A seven figure deal for just print rights stuck with me when I read about it. I’d think with the amount of books they move Harlequin would be considered a major publisher even if they do primarily focus on one genre, but what do I know.

    Not that I was trying to belittle your deal in any way, I think it’s great and I think we’ll start seeing deals like that more and more eventually. I’ll definitely check out that article you linked to as I find the whole thing quite interesting.

    BTW: I loved the Wool Omnibus and have the Shift Omnibus lined up in my TBR pile.

  7. No worries. I was just pointing out that these are still extraordinarily rare deals. I try to drop Bella’s name and give her credit wherever possible. I’m sure she had print-only offers from big 6 publishers as well, but Harlequin made the most sense. They are going to do very well with her Sullivans series.

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