Wool
by Hugh Howey, futuristic (2013)
Century, £9.99, ISBN 978-1-780-89124-8


Wool is easily one of the indie success stories, as it allows Hugh Howey to finangle a pretty good print contract with Simon & Schuster while retaining his digital rights. While there are other authors doing better than he is, these authors are icky females writing - eek - romance, so naturally this guy gets all the accolades, and in the process, the rotten cabbages as well from both pro-indie and anti-indie factions.

It's easy to forget that Wool is an actual book, rather than a figurehead for the movement that spawns the rise of the hybrid author. So, how is it?

Here are some things you should know. Wool is the designated first book in a series, and this story is a stand alone tale the way The Matrix is a self-contained movie: you will have so many loose ends dangling in front of you by the last page. This series revolve around life in the future, when the environment has become so toxic that people are forced to live in powerful silos.

The people in Silo 17 believe that they are the only ones left in the world. That's what they always believe, sigh. It's a big solo, although things can get cramped with so many people living inside. Everything has to be in order, with the Mechanical folks working to make sure things at working well at the bottom floors, while the governing people and the posh folks live in the upper floors and enjoy the view of the world outside. The true power running things is the IT, though - what they want, they get.

This is what the new sheriff Juliette Nichols discovers. Even before she officially steps into her post, dead bodies begin to pile. The previous sheriff volunteered for the cleaning - a fatal ritual normally reserved for heinous criminals, one in which the accused steps out in a protective suit to clean the lens of the cameras outside the silo - apparently because he was depressed by the death of his wife, who was also sentenced to the cleaning. The mayor that appointed her bit the dust shortly after making it clear that she wanted Juliette to be the new sheriff. All links suggest that someone is killing all these people to cover up something major... something major that people who are well-versed with "things are not what they seem to be in this little self-contained world" futuristic stories could guess early on. The truth is out there, people.

Let's get straight to the point: Wool is a very entertaining read. The pacing is just right, the atmosphere is fabulous as there is claustrophobia and tension building up toward something good, and the principal characters are all pretty gripping in their own right. Okay, there aren't many surprises here since I've seen many movies and read many sci-fi books with similar theme, but for the most part, it's all good. It's very hard for the most part to put down this book once I've started.

Thing is, the story falls apart slightly in its late third or so, when the author makes an abrupt shift in terms of tone. Early on, the author takes time to build up the characters so that I get to know their feelings and insecurities very well, and there is a strong character study element here to complement the story. However, the story plunges into a more conventional all hells break loose thing later on, and that's when it doesn't work too well for me. Early on, the story is more about people, and there is less effort made in fleshing out the society of the silo on the whole. Therefore, when the story plunges into chaos, I'm like, "Wait, aren't these people getting all excited and pumped up a bit too abruptly?"

Before this, Juliette even acknowledges how... odd... that she can stumble upon what seems like the damning truth about the silo when it took a previous character years to even come close to it, but I always believe that having a character admit an unlikely scenario in a story doesn't make that scenario any less unlikely. At any rate, if the author had spent more time fleshing out the socio-political elements of his story a bit more early on, the whole late third or so won't feel as rushed as it currently does.

Oh, and don't pay too much heed to the hype that Juliette is a tough female character. Like Hugh Howey, she is a figurehead. Sure, she is capable and she is tough, plus she manages to take a few steps without falling over in a squeal, but if that is the low standard we hold female characters to, oh dear. She inspires others to take up arms and what not, but on her own, she reacts more to things that befall her than anything else. Juliette is not Linda Hamilton's post-"I shagged a time traveler and he died, oops" melodrama Sarah Connor bent on a mission with a bazooka in each arm. I'm not saying that Juliette is weak, mind you. She's pretty decent, although there are other characters here that are more memorable than she is. It's just that... well, let's just say that you shouldn't raise your expectations too high. Juliette is competent and she can keep herself alive through a combination of grit and luck, but she's far from a heroine to remember where I am concerned.

The best thing going for Wool is its sheer unbeatable entertainment factor. It's hard to jump off the train once it gets going, because I'm having a lot of fun despite recognizing its flaws. It's nowhere as excellent as it's hyped to be, however. Still, it's been a blast, and I think I'll stick around a while longer.

Rating: 83


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