My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The one thing I have to say about Wool is. Wow! What enjoyable twists and turns inside this story.
There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about how independent author Hugh Howey soared onto best seller lists with his novella Wool and then his subsequent novellas written for the same world and then collected into a full-length novel titled Wool. I’ve had my eye on it for a while and then I came across a fellow blogger Hannah Heath’s book review about Wool the novella. Her excitement for Wool part 1 was infection.
I’m so glad that I finally made the time to reading the Wool novel in its entirety.
Wool was a refreshing twist on dystopian science fiction with real, average, every-day characters who are put into impossible situations. Good people are faced with choices they never thought they’d ever have to face. The relationships are sweet, gritty, and natural. Best of all I didn’t feel like it was a world that had been done over and over again.
The ever looming suspense throughout parts 1, 2, and 3 revolves around “the cleaning.” In this dystopian future, people live in underground silos and their only connection to the outside world is through cameras and sensors that monitor and display a bleak and desolate landscape. Generally people who break the rules of the pact are condemned to go outside and clean those cameras and sensors, but sometimes there are people who volunteer for the task, knowing that they’ll never be allowed back into the silo. Voluntarily or not, why do these people clean? The truth about cleaning and the existence of the silo is shrouded in mystery and secrets. It’s the desire to understand these fundamental truths of this fictional society that drives the reader on.
Howey expertly cultivates a thriller like atmosphere that constantly reminds the reader that the cleaning is often on people’s minds and as a result peaks our interest in the subject. He uses character perspective effectively to paint the world of the silo for the reader.
One thing to remember when reading Wool, the novel, is that this is a collection of novellas (or long short stories) that has been put together in chronological order, not rewritten to have the traditional narrative flow. So you can’t exactly approach reading this novel like you would with any other novel, more like as if you were reading vignettes that coalesce into a grand story. It’s kind of like watching a TV show, where the first episode hooks you and the followup episodes expand the world of the show and slowly give hints of the real overall story until you come to the final episode.
Wool Part 1
If you read any of Wool I highly suggest reading part 1. You get the full impact of the atmosphere that Howey creates in his Silo series in this one novella. You experience the deep emotion of the characters, both the joyful and horrifying.
This part introduces the world of the silo, it’s culture and social structure. You learn what kinds of people are born in such a place. And part 1 introduces the concept and mythology revolving around the infamous cleaning.
In the overall sense of the story, this would almost be considered a prologue. Sure we invest a lot of emotion in these character and they are referenced in future novellas, but the story as a whole isn’t solely about the characters in this novella. In fact this whole novella is the inciting incident that sets the rest of the story in motion.
I fear saying much more because I’d like you to enjoy the beautiful twists and turns of this first part of the story.
Note: You can get Wool part 1 for Kindle for free or you can get it for free from iBooks (by Apple).
Wool Part 2 – Proper Gauge
Part 2 continues right after part 1 and is almost like a second beginning. Which makes sense because part 1 was originally meant to be a stand alone novella until it became popular and readers begged for more stories. So here is the real beginning of “the novel;” where you learn all the things you learn at the beginning. All the major parties of the story are introduced in this novella, even if you don’t really realize it the first read through. This is where the power struggles are introduced and there’s an added level of complexity to the social structure of the world building. Howey’s use of POV in this novella is strong and shows the reader multiple dimensions not only do you learn about the world of the silo but you also learn about the characters based off how the world is described.
This novella isn’t as thrilling as the first, it’s more intellectual and exploitative, though you still get a great, tense ending that drives you to continue on to part 3.
Wool Part 3 – Casting Off
Part 3 runs off with the true heroine of the story, Juliette, the character that makes and creates the biggest changes in the Silo world. We know her from part 2 and this is where we dive deeper into the conspiracies that surround cleaning and the workings of the silo. You start part 3 knowing what’s going to happen to Juliette at the end of part 3 but it doesn’t matter because the reader is left wondering how she managed to get there. Part 3 is riddled with the same tension and thrilling excitement as part 1 with constant questions and investigation. We learn more about people met in part 2 and we are left to wonder who is on Juliette’s side and who isn’t.
Wool Part 4 – The Unraveling
Part 4 holds the major information explosions, action is totally stored up within the silo and you are almost non-stop wondering who’s going to live and who’s going to die. This is like the second half of an act 2 where people start doing something about what they’ve learned in the first half of the book. This is where all the major players face their next challenge and hope they survive to tell their side of the story.
Wool Part 5 – The Stranded
The nicest part about reading this as a novel is that I didn’t have to wait for Act 3. Things are looking pretty bleak for the people of the silo and there is a battle for change. All the characters fight for that change in their own unique ways, some with words, some with violence, some with decisive non-violent action. You grow to love various people in the silo and you hope for your favorites to live on and you don’t know who’s going to live and who’s going to die until the moment happens.
Even though I was personally satisfied with the end of this story I still felt that I wanted more. So once I finished Wool I added Shift and Dust to my “to read” lists.
Some Quick Criticisms
I have little to nit pick about some of the writing. The thing about these nit picks is that they could have been fixed so easily by a critique partner or editor and I was surprised that they weren’t caught.
I found it funny that it is known that Juliette prefers to be called Jules and yet she’s always called Juliette in the narration and only occasionally called Jules by other characters. I don’t know if it’s just something that was an after thought or if it was forgotten. Just a strange phenomenon that comes more off as a mistake than on purpose. I’ve always been told that if a character thinks of themselves as a certain name that they should be called that in the narration. I’m sure being called Jules was supposed to be a clever electrical mechanic kind of joke, but it’s lost when it’s not used or explained.
There were also two characters in the book called Sammy. Sammy, the kid from mechanical that is hired by IT, whom Juliette mentored for a while. And then there was another Sammy in IT that Lucas knows who was fully alive when mechanical Sammy had already died. It was just something that I thought was confusing and could have been easily fixed.
What I learned from Wool as a writer
I found reading Wool to be very educational from a writing perspective. It made me think that perhaps writing vignettes is becoming more popular again due to the popularity of e-books. It’s certainly something to think about as I move through my own writing.
I found the way that Howey used POV quite effective. Though there were times when certain characters had an absence of self-awareness to cultivate suspense for the reader, which I couldn’t decide if it was a cheat or not; but in the end I decided it was alright because he got the point across even though I felt manipulated as a reader. These times were most heavy handed in part 2 and 3.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Wool in its entirety. I think even if you’re not an SF reader, you’d enjoy it for its mystery and thriller aspects. The world building is compelling and the reader is thrown in and eased into its descriptions all at the same time. The world is close enough to ours to be thrown in and yet different enough that you want to learn more.
So if you are interested in thrilling mysteries filled with colorful, every day people doing extraordinary things, I think you’ll enjoy reading Wool.