Wool is the first of a series of novels by American author Hugh Howey, which centre on life in a dystopian future where mankind has been pushed underground into silos. Trapped in this subterranean cylinder, the inhabitants of the silo have been scraping a living for hundreds of years – but all that is about to change. One of the most talked-about books of 2012, Wool was a self-publishing success story on Amazon, and Ridley Scott has recently acquired the film rights. The book is now available in hardback in the UK.
Wool is a very compelling read, with strong pacing and an original turn of phrase that keeps it interesting to read at every turn. Howey’s prose is quirky and throws up a few surprising devices, but overall it does a great job of maintaining a sense of claustrophobia and impending death that heightens the tension of the reader. Even during sequences that are comparatively uneventful (of which there are few) the sense of the silo’s looming presence is always preying on your mind. It’s a very dark read, considering its broad appeal.
Initially, I was put off by the unoriginality of the novel’s concept. Humans living underground in a dystopian future where the Earth’s atmosphere has become poisonous is possibly the most hackneyed starting point a science fiction thriller could possibly have, as many B-movies could attest to. Howey does combat this to some degree with innovations as the storyline progresses, but it’s hard not to feel slightly cheated when such a lot of imagination has gone into pushing further into a story that has already been so thoroughly explored.
Howey’s silo is filled with believable characters, whose relationships are thoroughly explored during the course of the book. The complex network of inter-relation between these characters is really intricate, and gives a sense of a living environment into which the reader can be integrated. This is really a thriller that is driven just as much by its compelling characters as it is by its thrilling events.
The moral angle, which I hoped might be illuminated fairly thoroughly, never came to fruition for me. There are points in the book where it feels as though Howey is going to really engage with the moral substance of the events that his story depicts, but the prose and the characters never quite uncover anything more than a shallow glimpse of the implications at work here. Without giving the game away, I would say there is a lot to consider that hasn’t really been considered.
To sum up
Wool is a real page-turner that will keep you guessing at every twist. Although it reads as a little over-simplified, and has grown out of a none-too-original idea, the story of Howey’s believable characters is terribly compelling. So compelling, in fact, that you’ll have trouble believing you read 500 pages that quickly. This book goes a long way towards creating the claustrophobic sense of dread that its name and concept imply, and is immersive and action-packed to boot. It’s well worth a casual read.