Hugh Howey's Wool – A Strong Premise That Gets Lost In The Execution

woolAbout a week back, I hit up social media for a new book series to read / listen to. I've been doing a lot of listening to book on Audible over the last year or so and where I have some favorites I'm working my way through: Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Kevin Hearn's Iron Druid, Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles… I like to mix it up by trying other series and genres. A good friend of mine recommended Wool by Hugh Howey. I had never heard of the series and found out only recently that it had been adapted for comics by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Jimmy Broxton. I have not read their adaptation, but I did just finish the prose collection this morning. It was originally written as a series of novellas and then collected together in an omnibus. There are subsequent novels / collections, but I'm going to focus just on Wool.

What got me to try the book, outside of the recommendation, was the premise. It's really straight forward and has a nice hook. In a post-apocalyptic world, a group of humans live in an underground silo with a handful of cameras on the surface showing the inhabitants the outside world. The most severe punishment is being sent outside to clean the lenses, its a death sentence. Ever person who has been sent to cleaning has sworn they will not clean once outside… and everyone one of them ends up cleaning the lenses before dying. What do they see outside that makes them change their mind? To me, that is a great premise for a science fiction novel.

The first of the five novellas tells the tale of Sheriff Holston who has decided he wants to go outside and clean. Seems the number one crime that will get you sentenced to cleaning is telling people you want to go outside. The punishment for the crime is to give them what they want. His story is heartbreaking, sets up the rest of the collection and gives us a huge clue as to the reason why they clean even when they swear they won't. You can just about get the answer from this section, but not exactly. This chapter sets up a lot of things, part of the world, part of the premise and gives us a character to care about. And then Howey goes full on George R. R. Martin and kills the guy by the end of the first novella. His death isn't really a spoiler in that he tells you in the first chapter he is about to die.

The second novella focuses on Mayor Jahns and the search to find a replacement Sheriff and how it leads to a trip from the top of the Silo down near the bottom along the 140 level staircase. No elevator. This chapter is more about the politics that exist inside of the silo and we get the idea that there is more going on then what we've been told. We meet Bernard, the head of IT, who turns out to be the antagonist. I don't want to outright call him the villain because in some ways you can justify his actions. But he's also kind of a dick, so that helps to not like him. When he takes on a shadow (what they call an apprentice) later in the book, you start to see things from his point of view. We find out a lot about Jahns, how much her life has been repressed and how she is just now starting to realize it in her later years. She even finds a bit of happiness… and in this book that means you are like to be dead or sentenced to clean in the next few pages.

The rest of the three novellas mainly focuses on Juliette, a mechanic turned new sheriff who doesn't get to keep the job long and ends up unraveling the whole mystery of the silo and why they clean. The cleaning thing becomes obvious early on in the third novella and really kind of lets the wind out of the sails. And because the later novellas are larger than the first two, you're just over a third of the way into the book when that happens. They rest of the mystery of why the silo, etc falls out rather predictably. It becomes a very melancholy tale of characters introduced and taken away. There is not much joy in the whole book. It's a slow dirge that near the end I just wanted to be over. But I don't think that is complete the author's fault.

The audio book is narrated by Minnie Goode and I found her reading to be difficult to stick with. She doesn't have a wide range of voices that you want to listen to for long. Her main voice is fine, but in a book like this where different characters get a lot of dialogue, her alternate voices are a bit annoying and makes most of the characters sound a bit slow. So I'm not 100% sure if my negative feelings at the end were completely for the story seeming to drag on or just being tired of hearing the narrator. But I know that a good narrator makes all the difference.

Where I really liked the concept of Wool, it lost me in the execution and I seriously doubt I will be continuing on to the rest of the series.

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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