Ahoy there mateys! Though the first mate and I have very different reading tastes, occasionally we do recommend books to each other. Books the first mate introduced to me included xom-b, holes, and the perks of being a wallflower. He and I both read the following:
the wool series (Hugh Howey)
We were talking about the books and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I
ordered asked him to write a review. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the first mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
From the Captain:
So this trilogy is made up of the books called wool, shift, and dust. Or as I like to think of them – questions, answers, and consequences. This series is one of the best dystopians that I have ever read. The writing is fantastic, the world building exciting, and the characters exquisite. This book was filled with twists and turns and tensions. It kept me guessing and I was thoroughly engrossed during the reading process. I can’t get into major details because that would spoil everything. I don’t recommend reading the synopsis either because ye need to be surprised. Seriously wonderful books. The only downside were some parts of how the consequences were structured and the not as good ending. But the first and second books are damn near perfect. Commandeer yerself a copy.
From the First Mate:
I have to admit that I really drug my feet about reading “Wool,” and to tell you the truth I really have no good reason for doing so. From the instant it appeared as one of the first Kindle Direct successes it received great reviews, had many online champions, seemed to appear on tons of people’s favorite lists, and was just generally very well regarded whenever I heard about it. And yet, well, its plot sounded like a bad 70s sci-fi film (a bad version of “Logan’s Run” perhaps) or a young adult novel centered on an ingenue bringing down the system. It kind of sounded like it was going to be slog to get through; having to wade through the new sheriff making mistakes and learning that the world she lived in was far more corrupt than she’d previously thought. I was wrong. Oh, my, how I was wrong.
“Wool” is an adult sci-fi novel. Not in the “there’s sexytimes and profanity everywhere” sense that the word “adult” has come to mean in some contexts. In fact, there’s very little profanity and practically no sexuality at all. No, “Wool” is adult in the sense that all of the primary characters are actually adults, behave and reason like adults, have realistic adult relationships, and engage in complex themes and motivations. A significant part of the early part of the novel is devoted to two senior citizens (Jahns, the mayor, and Marnes, the deputy sheriff) descending from the top of the silo to the bottom to interview a candidate to be the new sheriff, all the time talking about relationships and history, and it is fascinating. Howey’s deft characterization here is so skillful that it was impossible not to be fully drawn into the decades long relationship that these two characters had shared. Reading that section I knew that I should’ve read this book long ago.
Perhaps the most fun aspect about “Wool” was the ways in which Howey kept taking standard story expectations and refusing to let them be played out in an easy, simplistic way. It would’ve been very easy for this novel to have settled into a procedural or a simple political struggle. But every moment where the story might have gone in a simple standard direction, Howey appears to have asked himself, “what would Bernard or Juliette really do here to screw up the other’s plan?” And then, after getting that answer, he’d ask it again.
When I finished the book, though, I had two thoughts: 1) Given the world that’s been set up, there’s no way this has a happy ending. And, 2) Given what we learn about the Silo in the latter third of the book, it’s difficult to understand how the events of the ending could have occurred (being vague, sorry, trying not to spoil). Thankfully, there was a second book, “Shift,” to dive right into.
“Shift” is, in my opinion, just as good as “Wool” just in a completely different way. Whereas “Wool” was very much a character driven story with our protagonist and antagonist altering the world they inhabited through sheer will, “Shift” is a plot driven story wherein a sad man, Donald, is caught in the currents of the decisions of others. Sadly, those decisions by other people end up destroying the world. It’s kind of a bureaucratic nightmare where one can be a cog in a machine that’s reaping untold destruction and yet be completely incapable of doing anything to prevent it. “Wool” was a novel about agency; “Shift” is a novel about helplessness.
In addition to telling Donald’s story, “Shift” also tells the story of a character from “Wool” about whom I absolutely did not want to read any more. Seriously, I audibly groaned when I saw that I was going to be reading about this character. And, well, Howey makes it work. He told me a story that I in no way wanted to read, and I ended up enjoying it. That’s gotta be a mark of some damn fine writing skill.
“Shift” ends in the same time period that “Wool” ends and gives a good explanation for how the end of that book was able to happen. However, given that we know even more about the world, it’s even more difficult after reading this book to see how there’s going to be any type of happy ending here for anyone.
The final book in the trilogy, “Dust,” may as well have been titled “The Consequences of Bad Decisions” as that’s really all there is to the book. It’s the shortest book in the series and, honestly, it feels as though Howey was done with these characters in this world and was really just looking to wrap things up in the fastest way possible. Virtually every bad decision that any of the characters made in the previous books comes back to bite them. Most of the consequences have a narrowing effect on the novel. Characters and possibilities are peeled away to allow the story line to progress quickly towards the finish. Unlike the previous novels which were full of surprising twists, “Dust” simply grinds through its plot towards a more or less predictable conclusion.
The only addition to the world in “Dust” was a completely unnecessary and bizarre religious story line. Basically a cult of really crazy people doing the things crazy cult people do (think Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and you’re on the right track). The only reason I can see for Howey to have put it in was to pad the length of the novel and that really seems at odds with how tight and well plotted the previous two novels were.
And the ending? Well, I wouldn’t call it a satisfying ending, but it also wasn’t the super dour ending that I was expecting. Does Howey cheat a little bit? Yes, he does. But, I admit, by that point I really didn’t care anymore.
I’d recommend “Wool” and “Shift” without reservation to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or post apocalyptic fiction. They should rightly be viewed as modern classics. Were I to recommend them, I’d probably also say that the third book is the weakest of the bunch and you might be better off skipping it.
Goodreads has this to say about the first book, wool:
Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.
Or you’ll get what you wish for.
To visit the author’s website go to:
Hugh Howey – Author
To buy the novels visit:
the wool trilogy – Book
To add to Goodreads go to:
Yer Ports for Plunder List