Cannonball Read V Winner! Featuring Wool by Hugh Howey
I saw Wool at Barnes and Noble shortly after reading a very enthusiastic review for it over at the Cannonball Read group blog, and of course had to pick it up. I wasn't disappointed, either. It was nice to see a good piece of dystopian fiction in the adult section for once (I love all the YA ones, I just wonder sometimes why they seem to be primarily marketed for that group). Wool originally started as a short story, which comprises the first section of this compendium entitled "Holston." Due to the fan response, Howey followed this up with four novellas which all expanded on the world he built.
There is a lot of rich detail that adds to the story but I don't want to give too much away. One thing I quite enjoyed is that Howey played with the readers' expectations, and subverted them. I think many people that read this will have read other dystopian pieces, such as The Hunger Games trilogy. As a result, we expect secrets and lies from top officials, but Howey plays with this and turns it on its head. For example, I thought I knew where the short story was going with one or two of the comments or hints dropped, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong.
When the first story begins, the piece slowly reveals details. Survivors of some catastrophic event live in a huge underground silo that is over 100 levels deep. There is a mayor and a sheriff to ensure law and order. Everything is very controlled to ensure survival, including reproduction. Holston is the current sheriff, and his wife has been dead for three years. On the third anniversary of her death, he decides he is done and expresses a desire to go outside. This breaks a giant taboo and law, and Holston knows he faces death, outside being something that isn't talked about. We hear a little about his wife, and the past, gleaming hints of life in the silo - there have been revolutions in the past, but the history has been erased. No one knows what happened to cause humans to retreat to the underground, how long they have been in the silo or what has happened in the silo in the past, but they know that the outside is toxic.
The second section or first novella of this compendium covers the search for a new sheriff, and the mayor's decision to put Juliet in charge. Juliet is a mechanic and has worked deep down in the silo for most of her life, but she made a good impression on the deputy during a case years earlier that took place in that level. Juliet, of course, knows about Holston's fate since news travels in this environment, but once she is in place she is driven by a desire to find out what inspired him to make that kind of decision. It is her search for meaning and understanding that drives the rest of the novellas and leads to the actions that occur.
Howey takes on a familiar story but adds his own spin, making this seem fresh and new within the genre. I quite enjoyed it, though I think some of the later novellas ended up being a bit longer than necessary. It was definitely a page turner, and I wonder how much of the world Howey had in mind from the beginning vs. how much he developed as he went based on fan response and popularity of his story. There is a prequel out as well now, and on the one hand, I would very much like to read it, but Wool was so good on its own that I'm almost hesitant to change that experience or read anything further that might detract from Howey's creation in this compendium.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)