Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool_Wiki_Wool-Omnibus-coverThe children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.

What it’s about: The Wool books, collected here in one issue, are clearly a product of the new age we’re living in. They were originally self-published as a series of e-books, heavily marketed on Amazon toward Kindle users. Because of my prejudice toward both self-publishing and heavy marketing, I was prepared to ignore them. But after a friend recommended them, and lured by the low, low price tag, I decided to try them. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The Wool universe is almost entirely confined to an underground silo, where hundreds of people live out their lives because the Earth’s atmosphere has been so poisoned by a long-ago apocalyptic event that they can’t go outside. The silo society is highly regimented, with different classes of workers living at different levels on the silo. Just going up and down the spiral staircase to reach other levels sounds like dystopia to me. It’s an interesting world, and of course, there are secrets being kept from the general public, which are slowly revealed.

Although told in five parts that were originally sold as separate “singles,” this amounts to a novel rather than a series of short stories. The end of each part is a cliffhanger amping up the suspense. It is better to simply buy the omnibus edition and read straight through, I think.

The title refers to the wool pads used by people who are sent out periodically to clean the lenses of the video cameras that provide a view onto the outside world, in a capital punishment process called “cleaning.” I’m not spoiling anything by telling you about this, as it’s one of the first things to happen in the story, and a hook to get you interested in reading more. The title could also refer to the wool being pulled over the eyes of the people who live in the silo, a reference that also seems somewhat heavy-handed to me.

Why I liked it: Wool is a fast read, with plenty of action to keep the pages turning. My major complaints about it are that the prose seems quite heavy-handed and dark purple at times. There is much overstating of characters’ thoughts and feelings when their actions are sufficient to communicate this. In short, it could use a little editing. However, I don’t necessarily attribute the need for editing to its self-published status. Plenty of books coming out of major publishing houses also could use a good deal of editing — even more than Wool, in my opinion — and I believe editing in general is being slowly suffocated in all areas of publishing. More importantly, Wool doesn’t suffer from the numerous typos and grammatical errors common in many self-published books, which can render those unreadable. There is nothing in Wool that screams out “self-published,” and since it’s more of a popcorn read than great literature, I can forgive the heavy-handedness.

Who might like it: I recommend Wool to fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction, and as an example of how self-publishing can work well. The author now has a print publishing deal but has retained online rights. Expect to see a movie version soon.


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