Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Entering the Silo

A while back, I wrote about The Martian, a case of a self-published author hitting it big. Since then, I've come across similar example of success -- and again in the science fiction genre.

Wool, by Hugh Howey, is a short novella you can read in just an hour or two. It's set in an apocalyptic future where the Earth has become uninhabitable, and humanity's few survivors live in an underground silo where resources and population are carefully controlled. The Silo's sheriff, Holston, is still reeling from the loss of his wife a few years earlier. He's troubled by the circumstances surrounding her death, and the novella's brisk chapters explore exactly how.

You might roll your eyes a bit to hear about "another post-apocalyptic science fiction story," but the triumph of Wool is that the setting truly is only background to a quite personal tale the author sets out to tell. What Holston suspects, and ultimately uncovers, is important. But more important still is his character himself: his emotions, his past, his motivations. This is a science fiction story well grounded in a person and not just in a setting.

From what I've read, the success of Wool led Hugh Howey to follow up with more novellas set in the same universe. The so-called Silo series ultimately spanned nine volumes in all, and I enjoyed the first one enough that I have every intention of reading what's next. That said, Wool (retroactively titled Wool: Holston) in no way reads like a book that was trying to tease a long-running series. It feels like a completely self-contained entity, and is one well worth recommending.

That said, it is a quite bleak work. This is no young adult apocalypse, no backdrop tailor made for some plucky hero. This has more in common with Battlestar Galactica (the re-make) than Divergent. It's not a feel-good read. Unless, that is, provocative writing makes you feel good. I'd give the tightly woven Wool an B+. You can read it for yourself and decide whether you, like me, want to continue on.

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