Wool by Hugh Howey
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.
- Wool by Hugh Howey – review (guardian.co.uk)