Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wool Omnibus - Hugh Howey

Wool is a solid entry in the dystopian future sub-genre. It began as a self-published short story in e-book format, then increased to five volumes due to reader demand, before being aggregated in this omnibus edition.

The first few pages of the omnibus give the reader the greatest attraction of the series - the environment. The story is set in `The Silo', a huge underground structure which houses a thriving society. But outside the ground level of the Silo is a howling wasteland.

And inside isn't perfect either. The society is heavily stratified, with social classes linked to locations inside the silo. `Mechanicals', `Supply' and `IT' , for example are no longer job descriptions, but distinct social groups, separated by the stairs that wind down through the silo. And all of those classes are laced through with taboos around asking about the outside, and about the past history of the Silo.

The initial thrust of the text centres around `Cleaning' ; an individual who has committed a crime punishable by death, or who has expressed interest in the outside, will be sent out into the wasteland to clean the external sensor lenses of the silo. Invariably, those sent will clean the lenses, and invariably, they never come back.

The mystery around the past of the Silo, the act of Cleaning, and the state of the outside world drives the start of the narrative. The environment is well detailed and lovingly described - and the concept of a closed society which it describes also makes interesting reading (and invites positive comparisons to classics like Oath of Fealty). The characters that inhabit this world are reasonably well-drawn. Whilst they don't seem to have quite the same level of depth as the society in which they are situated, they are typically comprehensible in their goals, and the main characters are well drawn, each with unique drivers and feelings which are gradually revealed to the reader over the course of the text.

The prose is well structures, giving key descriptions whilst not overloading the reader. Particularly worth mentioning is the dialogue between characters, which flows smoothly, and unlike some other texts in the genre, is remarkably empty of jargon or stilted technobabble. Howey succeeds in making his characters feel like people, even where they are drawn with something of a broad brush.

It's also worth noting that Howey doesn't pull any punches with his characters - continuing the trend of willingness to sacrifice major players in the narrative for dramatic effect.

Of course there are some failings. Some characters don't seem to be given enough space in the text to express themselves, to give their point of view to the reader. Parts of the later narrative seemed a little illogical on a second reading - though I won't go into detail here for fear of spoilers. That said, on the initial read I was far too entertained to think about a few plot quibbles.

In the final analysis, Howey has created a cleverly structured, entirely believable world, populated with interesting characters, with multiple points of view - and the ability to express those points of view reasonably in their dialogue, to each other and to the reader. Wool may not be a literary masterpiece, but it is certainly a superior example of the genre, and is heartily recommended.

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