It is the future, a few hundred years from now. There is no ‘outside’ and the world as people know it is just one vast silo. An underground settlement where everyone has a job, a function, a role, a tiny apartment to live in and a place in the system. No-one is to have any thoughts or aspirations about the outside or how they came to be there. Merely mentioning it will have you expelled for ‘cleaning’. To clean the cameras which look out onto the dried brown hills, the stars and of ‘what was’. No-one comes back from cleaning.
Wool by Hugh Howey begins with a comprehensive glimpse into the world of the silo dwellers. Very quickly you can imagine the layout of the silo, how it runs and the people that live there. The first few chapters centre on Allison who works in IT and Holston who is the silo’s sheriff. They have lived all their lives in the silo and no nothing of ‘what was before’. They have a happy marriage and a reasonably comfortable life until Allison uncovers some files on a server. Files, documents and information that send her into blinkered desire to uncover the truth. Mounting frustration along with the enormity of what she is uncovering causes her speedy descent into madness. Her madness unsettles the upper echelon of the silo and she is sent for ‘cleaning’ for the good of the population.
Holston suffers severe depression, loses interest in his beloved career, and replaces his focus for work for a longing for the truth and a even stronger longing for his wife. Holston is eventually lost completely. There is a vacancy for a new sheriff and so the Mayor and her trusty right hand man Marne’s trek down to the depths of the silo to mechanical where they recruit a young strong woman named Juliette who does not want to come willingly.
The lives of Holston and Alison leave us after just a few chapters which I felt was a real shame. I would have loved to have learned more of their back story, particularly Alison but that all adds to the intrigue of the book and maybe an opportunity for a prequel.
Juliette, eventually takes on the role of sheriff and heavy lies the crown within a few short days. For Juliette, the yearning for the truth, the nagging feeling that something is not quite right becomes stronger than family, love, and life. Alison has left breadcrumbs, can Juliette decipher them before her time runs out?
The book is very sharply written and from chapter one I was in the cold metal silo in a pair of grey coveralls. An onlooker, maybe a shadow or an assistant of some kind, watching them converse and choosing my side. The language spoken between the characters comes across very matter of fact and cold at times. A great writing technique by Howey. The mental conditioning, living conditions, and the fact that this book is set hundreds of years in the future is reflected in the evolution of their spoken language and interaction with each other without the reader getting lost in slang words or new language (which no doubt would happen if this were a real scenario).
Key characters however, seem to disappear in a sentence and I felt all too sharply at times. I wish there was a little more explanation and lead up to their demise. But in the world of ‘Wool’ lives come and go and expired bodies nourish the orchards without a blink or too much of a bump in anyone’s day. In particular one very key character seems to be wound up pretty quickly at the end which I found a little disappointing. He was ripped out of the pages quite abruptly and maybe deserved a few more lines.
Wool is three books rolled into one with a very definite beginning, middle and end. There is a genuine, respectful nod to Orwell’s 1984 which is certainly no bad thing. It’s a pager turner and I really cared for the characters, even to some extent the evil ones, which is a talent I would dearly love to have. We all know people around us that live in the apartment above or work in the tiny cubicle next to us at work; those who lead, those who care, those who would stitch you up the moment they could for promotion, those that would pick you up if you fell over, and those that collect the waste, the spare parts ‘just incase’. If you were trapped with them forever, how would you cope and where would you fit in?
I’m not a fan of sci-fi books and although I’m sure this book will have a strong sci-following, readers will not be put off by reviews that say it is one.