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Part of Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy, Wool is easily one of the most fascinating and in-depth science fiction novels that you’ll come across today. The book, and indeed the subsequent titles in the trilogy, follows a handful of main characters under the stewardship of one Juliette Nichols, an enigmatic engineering prodigy.
The story picks off from the last few days of Holston as the silo sheriff, with his wife poking holes into the enclosure. The balloon in question has been the home of a 150-level sealed unit, which includes Deputy Marnes, Mayor Jahns, Sheriff Holston, and Juliette, his beloved wife.
Inside, women and men live a walled life in which they must follow strict regulations and rules. It’s a life of lies and secrets. To stay in and “survive”, you must toe the line, but not everyone is following the rules. The non-rule followers are counted as dangerous dissidents.
From their point of view, those who don’t follow these selfish rules are the people who dare to dream and hope, infecting others with their vile optimism while at it. The punishment for flouting the rules is simple and lethal: they’re sent outside to clean the camera apparatus, including the lens, which is the only way the “insiders” can catch a glimpse of the perilous world out there.
People who are inside the balloon have been made to believe the world outside is toxic and dangerous. So, they have never ventured outdoors or smelled the fresh air. Today is the day Sheriff Holston will go outside, clean the lens, and face imminent death. This is where Holston’s short story ends, and where Juliette’s begin.
Wool is a tale that pits the “bad guys” in IT against the “good guys” in the mechanical engineering department. The silo (aka the balloon) is a place where freethinking is not permitted and, predictably, births the revolution against this tyrannical system. It only takes a single person to spark a revolution and that one person none other than Juliette. Her main enemy is of course The Fat Controller Bernard, the head of IT.
Dystopian fiction makes a good chunk of the most notable sci-fi works. More recently, some of them have incorporated the apocalyptic zombie element reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury or 1984, the cult-classic by George Orwell. Taking a flight from this hot trend, Hugh Howey’s Wool is a true post-apocalyptic fiction that has nothing to do with brain-eating zombies.
Wool reminds us of the sci-fi films that emerged in the 1970s, including George Lucas’s THX 1138 or Logan’s Run. At face value, the silo doesn’t appear to be a bad place. Both the sheriff and an elected mayor are tasked with making sure the rules are followed by everyone. And this includes every person employed on all 150 levels, from those who work in the near-surface cafeteria to the mineworkers at the bottom level.
Sure, crime is very low or non-existent, but inhabitants of the silo are miserable. After all, if you fail to follow the rules, you’ll find yourself in the toxic outside, facing impending death. But everything comes down crumbling when Juliette, a lower-level engineer, is picked to be the next sheriff and, before long, finds herself in trouble with the law.
The façade carefully manned with a series of cameras begins to melt in a pensive, character-driven narrative that will hold the reader’s attention to the last period. In the end, there’s death, war, chaos, and eventually, a new hope. The concept of Wool calls to mind Mega-City One Tower from Judge Dredd’s comic book series. Or the claustrophobic lifestyle of Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Hugh Howey is a publishing sensation. Howey originally self-published Wool as a series of intertwined mini-novels and ended up selling more than a whopping 250,000 copies. Despite being published as different novellas, the different segments come together beautifully to create a work of art. Granted the recent sale of filming rights to Ridley Scott, Wool is likely to become one of the best books of all time, riding the same popularity wave as The Passage or The Hunger Games.