Title: Wool (Omnibus)
Author: Hugh Howey
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 550 pages
Read: August 11-12, 2012
Summary: Classic. 5/5
While this Omnibus feels like a novel, it was originally published as a series of five novellas — and self-published at that. But don’t let that scare you, it’s better written, better edited, and far more engaging than 95% of New York published SciFi. In some ways a throwback, in some ways very modern, Wool is a contained (in both the literary and literal way) post apocalyptic tale in the mould of Larry Niven or A Canticle for Leibowitz. Technically this is an ARC story, about an isolated world built to survive a destroyed environment. The people in Wool live in a 148 floor Silo in the ground. To leave is to die.
The book is written in first person tight from multiple points of view. Each section has a fairly clear POV character and the narrative voice highlights their perspective. There is no single protagonist. The first novella is basically a short story introducing the world and ending with the usual short story twist. It did very well on Amazon and the author wrote a second (using a minor character from the first as the POV) and then a third which essentially transitions to the larger story’s most important character (Jules). It’s very much to Howey’s credit that this serial construction does not feel artificial. The works holds up both individually as a cohesive and epic novel.
Several things lead to the overall excellence: The characters are well developed and mostly likable (the main villain is a little thin, but interesting enough). The world is intriguing and detailed with an appropriate pacing of reveals. There is a good amount of death and suffering in this novel and it lends a generally tragic air to the whole situation as well as the specific events. There is also a lot of tension despite what might nominally be plotting that doesn’t showcase a lot of overt external conflict (in the first 2-3 books). Basically it’s just very good.
The silo is well thought out. My only real beef at a technical level (and this doesn’t distract from the book at all) is the unlikelyhood that such a contained ecosystem (in all senses of the word) could remain so functional over several centuries. On a practical level earthly eco-systems function because of the ENORMOUS quantity of solar energy constantly added. Wool features a pretty big system powered by a single main fossil-fuel generator. Maybe that’s possible, and Howey’s navel background lends copious verisimilitude and gritty detail, but I suspect to really make a big spaceship or ARC last a long time you’d need some really serious juice. Large scale hydroponic farming alone would require a hell of a lot of power. But as fiction, it’s really well worked out.
Additionally, at a realistic level, I’m not a big believer in the predictability of human large scale behavior (aka history), but in the context of Science Fiction like this (taking its queue from Asimov’s Foundation), there’s no problem. In the real world, despite the endlessly repeating basic patterns of history, no human has ever proven to be a great predictor and controller of the long term specifics.
Another minor peeve is that the Kindle version, while well proofread, has a very unusual formatting with a tiny font oversized spacing between paragraphs. I had to jack the Kindle scale feature up several notches to even read the text. There’s (currently) really no reason not to use the default font style for MOBI/EPUB body text in a novel.
But if you like Science Fiction, post apocalyptic worlds, or just plain old good novels. Read this. Seriously, it’s one of the most enjoyable speculative novels I’ve read in years. Bravo.