Hugh Howey is the author of the award winning Molly Fyde series. After spending much of his life at sea, he eventually settled down in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina where he lives with his wife Amber and their dog Bella. When he isn’t writing, he’s dreaming of sailing.
"Howey’s strength is in his characters. They are distinct and yet familiar in their desires. They love, even when it isn’t allowed, they explore even within the confines of the silo and they create."
Now you’re probably wondering, what’s outside, right? And also, who the hell is Hugh Howey? This is good; this is normal, these are good questions. Let’s begin by answering the last question first. Howey is many things: an ex-yacht captain, a master story-teller and probably, the Internet’s best kept secret. But WOOL isn’t Howey’s first book, and book might not be the right word, since WOOL is actually Howey’s second series. He’s self-published (for the most part) and this, quite possibly, is what makes WOOL so brilliant. With no publisher, no advertising whatsoever, no budget and no famous-author blurbs, Howey managed to single-handedly create his most successful (and one of Amazon’s best-selling Kindle sci-fi) series to date.
Briefly, WOOL is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read. And it’s actually addicting! The formula? Howey never (ever) offers straight-up explanations to anything, even to the most important questions like: what is outside, how did the world blow up, did the world blow up and why are these people all living underground in a silo? Howey takes his time — almost like he is flaunting his ability to tell a damn good story — and lets the book do all the work, through meticulous character development and engaging dialogue.
But to answer the first question: WOOL is an unorthodox tale about survival and post-apocalyptic wellness in a dystopian world where reality and the very notion of survival have devolved into a state of underground existence. In principle, it’s definitely a science fiction text but don’t fret — Howey abstains from using age-old science fiction clichés or boring us with already-been-done end-of-the-world scenarios. And don’t expect this to be a tale about aliens from distant planets with shrink rays from the future; there’s nothing about time-travel here. The world of WOOL is anchored in a reality that seems much too real and plausible.
The exposition is rather speedy: something bad happened and the outside is no longer safe. All survivors now live underground. And again, forget clichés, these people don’t live in giant vaults or covered bunkers; they live in one giant silo but there’s more to it. . . . On the first level of the silo (the top), there are these giant wallscreens connected to cameras that are mounted to the exterior wall of the silo and these cameras allow the inhabitants to see the outside, which really isn’t that much. On the wallscreens, it’s the same loop: a brown desert and hills with a gray sky. Pretty straightforward, see, but note that these wallscreens are central to the entire WOOL universe. The world went to shit a long time ago and these people have been living in a silo for quite some time — several decades it seems — so after a while, a (somewhat unique) justice system, contingent of the wallscreens and outside cameras, was created. If you ask to go outside, you are considered a traitor and are treated like a criminal and criminals are punished by being sent outside, for “cleaning.”
In one of the early chapters — and these chapters go by fast, the longest being something like six or seven pages — Howey goes into great detail about the outside, basically affirming that what the inhabitants see on the wallscreens is indeed real. The outside is nothing but desert. Obviously, an environment like this is terrible for cameras, as bits of sand, dust and grime quickly collect onto the surface lenses. This is why someone is required to clean, routinely. And if there is no one to send outside, the sheriff chooses one of the inhabitants for cleaning. Pretty sick, right? Oh, and also, no one has ever refused to clean.
If anything, WOOL is like a (very) good soap-opera that reads like a mystery novel (at times) with obvious elements of science fiction and the occasional (spectacularly-written) action sequence. Each chapter (generally) leaves the reader in a daze, with a mini-cliffhanger, the sort you would come to expect from a serialized novel like WOOL, and this, actually, is what makes WOOL so addicting and ultimately, so satisfying. Oh, and did I mention? WOOL features one of the most-accomplished and satisfying villains in recent years. The kind who does the obligatory explanation-of-dastardly-plans speech but then actually goes through with the plan!
Go read the Amazon reviews; WOOL has the sort of characters and chapter endings that will leave you lying awake at night, wondering: my goodness, what could possibly be next? How is this character ever going to overcome this great torment? It’s a drama, a thriller, a mystery, a science fiction text. It’s WOOL, and I promise: it will infect your life.