Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wool - Hugh Howey

Please forgive my delinquency in getting new posts up; it was not from lack of desire.  I have been having increasingly terrible headaches for a while now.  Turns out, I spend too much time in front of computers and reading (surprise!).  I need glasses.  I feel more cliché than a happy ending, but I am thrilled to finally have an answer.  We ordered my glasses on Friday and they should be here in a week or so.  You can expect regularly scheduled posting to resume then.  Meanwhile, I am avoiding screens as much as possible to reduce the strength of my headaches. Thanks for your patience!  I promise that if you pick up this book in the meantime, you'll be so enthralled you won't even miss me!

I am always hunting for the next Hunger Games.  Aren't we all?  Good characters, compelling plot, well written, social commentary between the lines - Suzanne Collins sparked deep discussion with her trilogy.  When people ask me to suggest a similar book, to this point, I always suggest Divergent.  However, thanks to a coworker's suggestion, I have a new book to recommend.

Wool is the latest and greatest in the recent line of dystopian-style novels.  Unlike many of its peers, I would not necessarily classify it as young adult.  Some of the content and language is a bit heavier than books like Hunger Games or the Across the Universe series.  Still, for those who love reading about post-apocalyptic  words, this book should be at the top of your list.

As with many books of its style, Wool requires an initial investment and some patience to figure out exactly what is going on.  The book is broken into five sections, each longer than its predecessor.  The first focuses on Sheriff Holston, the lead lawman of a very contained world.  As the story progresses, you realize that the characters are living in a massive underground silo.  The surface of the Earth endures some sort of nuclear winter.  The video feed from the top of the silo show a barren wasteland, colored only in browns.  On the horizon, the remnants of skyscrapers appear; you learn much later that those buildings mark the remains of Atlanta.

The people in the silo have lived there for generations and have no concept of what it is like to live above ground.  Their underground society functions fairly well.  In many ways, the fear of the ultimate punishment, cleaning, keeps the citizens in line.  Talk of outside is completely forbidden, punishable by cleaning.  Cleaning, which sounds far less ominous that it is, requires the guilty to don a special suit and head outdoors to clean the sensors which offer those in the silo their view of the world above.  Inevitably, the suit breaks down in a short time and the cleaner dies alone in the wasteland.

Inside the silo, the day of a cleaning becomes a holiday as families trek up the centralized spiral staircase to see the view of outside, now untainted by dust and grime.  The sacrifice of their community member has reminded them 'that their silo is a shelter, not a prison.' ( For those who live in the bottom of the silo, this journey may be a once in a lifetime event.  The trip from surface to the lowest level, level 144, takes days.  No elevators exist in this world.

At first, some of Howey's decisions as an author do not seem to make sense.  Take the elevator situation, for instance.  Why would anyone designing such a complex architectural feat as the silo leave out elevators?  As the story progresses, however, he shows you the answer to this question, rather than telling you.  The powers that be never wanted it to be easy for people in the silo to communicate.  That would make it too easy for them to start meaningful discussions about their living state and what may be outside.  The builders keep the inhabitants apart purposefully.

Howey excels at showing, not telling.  This elusive and difficult trait of good writing confounds many of his peers, particularly Veronica Roth.  This skill makes Wool particularly delightful to read.  Howey assumes you are smart enough to figure out the world he has created.  He leaves breadcrumbs along the way to help you see deeper into the history and structure of the silo, but even without seeing the crumbs, you can enjoy the story.  His plot twists and turns without falling into predictable patterns.  I found his characters, particularly heroine Juliette, to be multi-dimensional and worth investing in.

Howey did a wonderful job exploring the complexities of social ramifications of life in the silo, but he did not stop within the pages of the book.  His very premise presents contradictory arguments.  Yes, the people in the silo are basically held captive by those few who know the truth; yet, the silo has achieved something still far from our reach: true sustainable living.  I look forward to the prequel, Shift, which was released earlier this year.  Apparently, it dives further into the creation of the silo and the world which prompted its construction.

On an interesting side note, Howey not only wrote a fantastic piece, he also did so in an abnormal way, making waves in the literary community in the process.  Howey worked in a bookstore and wrote Wool on his hour long lunch breaks over the course of three years.  He released the sections as digital books one at a time.  In between the releases, he invited fan feedback and took their thoughts into consideration.  Through this, Howey demonstrated a whole new writing process for authors in this digital era.  It will be interesting to see if other authors find success with this method or if Howey is an enigma.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.  Those who already enjoy this genre will tear through it.  If you have any hesitation, know this: my dear husband, who does not really enjoy reading and would never go to it as a first activity choice, read this book in one weekend.  He could not put it down.  Every time I turned around, he had it in his hands.  I know I have found a winner when it hooks even Kevin.

Have you read anything lately that you just couldn't put down?  What summer reads are you enjoying?

Pages: 509
Date Completed: June 8, 2013

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