Hugh Howey originally released Wool as a series of installments, and I can see why the book soared to the top of the charts on Amazon. As well as having what I call “the elusive compulsion factor,” it is written with a gritty realism that mirrors the subject perfectly.
It’s the story of a post-apocalyptic world, where poisonous winds scour the landscape aboveground on Earth; people live an underground silo that extends down for over one hundred stories.
Couples must wait for someone’s death for a ticket to try for a child; every few years there is a Cleaning, when someone leaves the Silo to go outside and clean the windows, either voluntarily or under punishment. They never return.
Wool begins with a cleaning, as Holston volunteers to go outside a year after his wife made the same request. This sets into action a series of events that end up affecting every story of the Silo and beyond.
The first section is called Holston, and it is all about his experience. The following parts are named after actions and concepts in knitting: Proper Gauge, Casting Off, Unraveling, and feature other characters.
First up is Jahns, the Mayor of the silo, and it concentrates on her relationship with Marnes, a police officer, as they go to find a replacement for Holston. Their journey to the bottom of the silo introduces other factions in a nice, geographic outline. I felt as I read Proper Gauge I was descending with Jahns and Marnes to the lower section of the silo, meeting IT and Mechanical along the way.
IT holds Bernard, who is unlikeable from the start. Mechanical is the setting for Juliette, or Jules, and she is extremely likeable. In fact, she’s one of the most original characters I’ve met in science fiction.
All the characters interact in a very original, organic way. As an author, I marveled at Howey’s prowess at herding people from one section to another – this can be a very onerous, exhausting task at times. He manages it without any deus ex machina; as the book progressed, I really felt I was living in the Silo.
The book reminded me of the best of Verne and Wells. The gears and engines are described so perfectly, it’s no surprise to learn that Howey worked as a mechanic on ship, servicing engines that were almost as large as the ones Jules works on in Mechanical.
Meanwhile, there is the rise of Bernard, who acquires more and more power and determines to keep Jules from the upper floors of the Silo. Jules herself is perfect – she’s strong and still feminine, but most of all she is incredibly intelligent. I love the way she negotiates her adventures and challenges in the Silo and out of it.
I read a lot of comments on Goodreads and Amazon that the book shouldn’t have been called Wool. I think there is a definite reason for the title beyond the chapter headings which I won’t mention since it is a major spoiler, but feel free to message me and we can chat about it, if you have read the book.
Not only that, but the plot structure is also very simple – much like the spiral staircase that supports the Silo – simple, but very clever. From that structure, a believable, exciting world blooms and evolves under the ground.