Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Gauging the Silo

The first novella of Hugh Howey's Silo series was good enough to pull me into the rest of the series. That turns out to span nine stories in all -- which I assume to be of unequal lengths, as the first five were compiled under the heading "Wool," and published in their own omnibus. But rather than reading it all in one stretch (more than 1000 pages in my Nook reader), I decided to take it one novella at a time, with other reading interspersed between. So first (well, second) up, Proper Gauge.

Set in the immediate aftermath of the first story, Holston, Proper Gauge tracks the mayor of the silo as she ventures down into the lowest levels of the structure to recruit someone for a job. In the process, she learns just how much she doesn't know about the lower levels and its problems, despite being their leader.

Once again, author Hugh Howey has crafted a story where character is key. He has invented a rather detailed world in which his story takes place -- and this novella reveals much more of it than the first -- but it's all quite secondary to the focal character. This is all about Mayor Jahns' thoughts and challenges, her regrets about a past that could have played out differently, and her hopes for the future beyond her own lifetime.

The story moves at a substantially slower pace than the first book. It's almost entirely, literally, a 100-story walk downstairs and then back up. There are stops along the way, scenes set in different parts of the silo, but much of the narrative is simply the mayor's thoughts as she puts one foot in front of the other. It easily could have come off dry, save for two things. First, you can clearly see pieces being placed for the next volumes of the series. Where Holston felt like a wholly self-contained tale, Proper Gauge definitely sets up what's to come next.

Second, Howey is pretty good at inhabiting the mind of his character. Not every flight of fancy in her mind is riveting stuff, but her view of the world is generally an interesting one that keeps you turning the pages. For readers who value plot much more highly than character, it might get too slow in places, but in this case I found myself consistently engaged.

I'd give Proper Gauge a B+. It certainly kept me hooked on the series, possibly even setting its hooks in me a little deeper.

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