The Silo series – Wool, Shift, Dust
After reading the first book of this series I was somewhat curious how the story continues, just enough to buy the next two. Just barely. Wool begins near the end of the story, which isn’t obvious until much, much later, and it takes a while to work your way through all three books. In the first book we are introduced to Silo 18, one of fifty self-sustaining silos (and they all think they’re the only one) built to protect the human race until the terrorist’s killer nanobots have run their course on the outside world, and we begin learning the ups and downs of that society. Okay, that was a bad joke, because the silo is a huge underground structure that is one hundred and fifty floors of completely self-sustaining biosphere with no elevator, only a single large spiral stairway occupying the middle. Thousands of people have worked and lived for generations in the concrete bunker that protects them from the poisonous outside world. They know that people used to live on the surface but no one talks about it because that is an offense against the pact. To speak of outside or, even worse, to express any interest in it is to invite a sentence of cleaning.
This is a verb that quickly becomes ominous to the reader. To clean is to be sent outside in the poisonous air wearing a suit. The condemned person then cleans the camera lenses that show the outside on huge screens to the people inside, who can see that they’re safer inside because no cleaner lives longer than a few minutes, and even the ones who swear they won’t clean always do. Until one doesn’t.
It becomes obvious early that something ugly is going on beneath the peaceful surface of life buried deep in the Earth. Author Hugh Howey takes his time, like a story told by your elderly aunt, if your aunt was Edith Bunker. He paints an intimate portrait of life in this odd milieu, related at first by Mayor Jahns as she experiences it on a trip “down deep”. As you go deeper into the story, as she descends the stair, there are hints of mystery and intrigue, but there is no real advance of the story. It’s an odd balance. You feel like you’re going somewhere but you’re not really, like traveling in the silo, around and around and around the stairs, but not straightforward. After a hundred pages I was still waiting for the story to commence. Patience is required.
Like The Martian, Wool began self-published for 99¢ as a series of novellas stitched together and has been picked up by director Ridley Scott. There is also a graphic novel adaptation, which I’ve only glanced at.
Shift is the second book, where you find out just how much you didn’t know. That’s a little jarring. Actually it’s a lot jarring skipping back and forth between two characters separated by a couple of hundred silo years, Once you get used to it, Shift is okay. Howey works well in tension, and it’s sometimes difficult to stop yourself from fast forwarding to see how this or that character fares. The end of the second third leaves you really, really wanting to know what the hell happens in Dust, so you pick up the third book and you wait, and you wait, and it seems like there’s stuff going on, but really there isn’t. I finally gave in and began skipping pages near the end, having tired of reading about the characters’ feelings and motivations after a couple of hundred pages of it. Howey is so good at building and maintaining tension despite the slow advance of story that I became impatient to know how it ended. And then it ended and, well, it’s disappointing. Was for me, anyway. The very end of the book was so disappointing to me that it colored my perception of the work as a whole.
The prose is solid and entertaining, the dystopian future is fascinating and a little horrifying, and the characters are many and varied. It’s good that there are so many characters because Howey is relentless with them. They drop like flies in this somewhat complicated story that seems to last forever but actually takes place in a short amount of time. I recommend reading this if you’re not in a hurry and you have the patience of a saint. I felt like the books got progressively weaker and was disappointed with the end, but you may feel otherwise.
- Hugh Howey Website – The Wayfinder
- Hugh Howey, Author Of The “Silo Saga,” Talks About Making It Big In Self-Publishing