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Wool by Hugh Howey

January 14, 2013

In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo.

Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies.

To live, you must follow the rules. But some don’t. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism.

Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside.

Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.


You may have heard of Wool already, with it already being touted as the next self-publishing phenomenon following Fifty Shades of Grey, with some articles even questioning whether science fiction is the new erotica. Wool was in fact originally self-published by Howey as a short story back in 2011, but due to its popularity he soon expanded it into a story of five parts, now published for the first time as one volume. As soon as I read the synopsis of Wool and saw its beautiful new cover, I knew this was a book for me.

With one of my colleagues absolutely loving it, and another failing to finish it, I was slightly anxious to begin and see where my own opinion would lie, and as is typical of me, I fell somewhere in between. I found Howey’s ideas of people living as a community in an underground silo, unable to go out into the deadly atmosphere of the world, really intriguing. This is where self-publishing often triumphs; and without such a tool we, as readers, would fail to come across some really great ideas, but without the help of the crucial editor, the writing can often fail to deliver those ideas in a way that lives up to its potential. I think this is probably what has happened here. Howey’s writing isn’t awful by all means, at times it’s very good, but there are a lot of pacing issues and I can’t help but feel that this novel seems like more of a character study than a sci-fi epic. The world needed developing as much as its characters, and unfortunately it never quite got there for me.

The other issue is of course that you can’t help but see it as a short story turned novel. The first ‘part’ feels like a very tight and concisely written story, and the following parts feel like they have a fair bit of padding that slows the pace right down.

Now I don’t mean to put a complete downer on this debut. All issues aside, it is a very entertaining read that had me turning page after page, desperate to find out what would happn next, who would survive and who would die. Like I said, there are some really intriguing ideas here, and perhaps the most important of all is why they are in an underground silo in the first place. I’m not going to ruin it for you of course, but I do love the way Howey slowly teases you with the answers. Lots of other reviewers have questioned the believability of it all, whether certain things would make scientific sense or not, but quite frankly I never care much for these sorts of questions. If the author can make a piece of fiction plausible, then I’m willing to believe it, and I could certainly believe in the world Howey has created here.

If apocalyptic sci-fi is your thing, and you’re looking for an entertaining read that will take you on a journey with some great characters then please do read Wool. The ideas are brilliant, but the execution could’ve used an extra helping hand. Everything is there on the page to make this a truly great sci-fi novel, I just can’t help but wish the editor took it into their own hands and gave it the make-over it needs. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing what Hugh Howey comes out with next.

Wool is out on the 17th January, published by Century. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Rating stars3

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2013 15:12

    I really enjoyed Wool, but I get what you’re saying.

  2. January 15, 2013 20:39

    This sounds so great, I am very much a fan of apocalyptic sci-fi, but I’ve read a few mixed reviews like yours and it seems awfully long to get started on and invest time in if I’m not going to adore it. Something is holding me back from picking up a copy just yet.

    • January 15, 2013 22:43

      It’s true there are a few mixed reviews out there, but an awful lot of positive ones too! There is also a lot of apocalyptic sci-fi out there and it seems harder than ever to write something on par with what’s been written already! With so many great books out there tempting us, I can see why you’re holding back! Let me know if you do read it though 🙂

  3. January 15, 2013 21:46

    Great review! I enjoyed this more than you, but you are quite right about the need for tighter editing. The first three stories blew me away. The claustrophobia of the Silo is palpable. The last two stories are much more verbose and the tangible tension lost. They needed some hard pruning.

    • January 15, 2013 22:45

      Glad you agree 🙂 I guess I couldn’t quite see past it enough to enjoy it as much as you did! I still think it highlights what great ideas self-published authors are putting out there.

  4. Justine permalink
    June 22, 2013 12:47

    Hello Emma, not unsurprisingly for me I agree with you about Wool. I tend to have similar tastes to you in novels and I found this just too dense and slow paced for me. I found the first couple of chapters very interesting then my interest dissipated and I stopped reading. Life is too short and there are so many books to squeeze in!


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