Wool (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey

I knew the moment I finished this book it would take awhile for it to sink in. I didn’t want to write a review. I didn’t know how to do one without spoilers. Let me give you the Link to Goodreads and the blurb:

wool

This Omnibus Edition collects the five Wool books into a single volume. It is for those who arrived late to the party and who wish to save a dollar or two while picking up the same stories in a single package.

The first Wool story was released as a standalone short in July of 2011. Due to reviewer demand, the rest of the story was released over the next six months. My thanks go out to those reviewers who clamored for more. Without you, none of this would exist. Your demand created this as much as I did.

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.

I don’t know why I should feel bad about spoilers – the author spoils things at every turn. It keeps you flip-flopping around like you’ve been stung by an eel! He makes up for it with  his use of flashback and cliffhangers. He somehow manages to break all the “rules” and yet I kept on turning the pages!  The very first “story” is an enormous spoiler all by itself, and yet he takes several chapters to brings the story back around and we learn how the first chapter came about. Do you see where I’m heading, here? This is so hard. I’m trying to describe the color orange.

Let me try this again. We’ve got a nest of humanity living in a dwelling described as a silo. The first thing I think when I hear silo is “missile” silo. Those things are big, but nowhere near large enough to fit the description of this place. Thousands live and work and maintain the society, with the necessities of the silo arranged on different levels. Some are devoted to growing food, raising animals, the nursery for newborns, there are even levels for the sole purpose of maintaining the silo itself. It’s a micro-city. Well, rather too big to be micro, especially if you imagine that all of humanity lives within this dwelling… or does it? You know humanity is inside because of the toxic environment, but when and why was this silo built? Is everybody inside? Where is this silo, geographically? No one knows. And what if you want to go outside? Better not to mention it where anyone can hear you!

Criminals, some who just dream of living in another place or who rock the boat, are sent out “to clean.” This entails being stuffed in a “cleaning” suit, going outside and wiping down the external sensors that beam the bleak view of outside to screens inside the silo. This is a big deal. People come to the viewing level to see the screens that display the outside. Over time, dust clogs the viewers and dims the picture. You’d think they would want it to go dim… because part of the view are the bodies of those who have gone out to clean. The environment is so toxic that even inside a suit, the cleaners don’t have long to live. So once you go out, you aren’t coming back in. This makes everyone wonder: why do they do it? Why don’t they just give the silo the middle finger and go die? No one does. Everyone that goes out follows the careful series of instructions they are given before being sent out. They all clean.

The silo itself is more than setting, it’s a character. It seems ancient and eternal, but there is a finite serviceability to everything. The steps that hug the edges of the silo are described in minute detail. The paint is wearing, there is a dip in the middle of each fret, where countless feet have taken countless steps. The diamond cut for traction has worn down. It gives slightly as people walk up and down. Traveling in either direction, you jostle people coming the other way. It made me wonder: if the only way to move through the silo is up this rather thin staircase, what would they do in case of evacuation… and then it hit me. This was the evacuation.  This was the saving grace of those who left the outside world behind. The silo wasn’t made to be evacuated.

That the sensors need cleaning at all is one of the first clues the silo has limitations. What if no one is sent to clean? Will the view be completely obliterated? One character notices square white dots within the frame of the viewscreen. He knows it’s a projection, that the image is made up of things called pixels and he wonders what will happen when more of them begin to go white. Do they have the knowledge or parts to fix them? If they do, why haven’t they? One character loses a sibling to a faulty incubator and makes the life changing decision to go down below and train in maintenance, to try and fix the technology that keeps the silo running. What you get from this is that the threat is piled up in layers: the outside desolation, the interior mechanics and of course, the political and social stress of humans trapped in a metal building dug in the ground.

I can’t remember reading a book that had me gasping out loud as often as this one did. Most of this emotion came from caring about what was happening to the characters. Every one felt well rounded and had clear motivations. I never wondered “Why on Earth would so-n-so do that?” Add a villain that makes you grind your teeth, and you have a page turner.

Despite having been released in parts, this doesn’t feel like a series of short stories, other than perhaps the first. It’s a prologue that works like a proper prologue should – a necessary bit of background that sets up the rest of the story. It’s a hell of a read. There are secrets upon secrets, going as deep as the silo itself. And what is out there beyond the ridge? Beyond the bodies moldering in the distance? You have to read it to find out.

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