Wool by Hugh Howey

imageDo you prefer the world building or the plot?

For example, when you saw the first Ghostbusters movie, was your favorite part the initial half or the final half?  In the first half we met the characters, followed them through an ordinary day of ghost hunting/library going–basically learned the ground rules of this world.  In the second half the plot takes over and we get all the big scenes, car crashes, giant Mr. Stay Puff monsters, etc.

Typically, I prefer the world building section of a movie.  Once the plot gets going, I find it’s all car crash–clever line–car crash until the hero wins and the credits roll and I can go on with my life.

It’s the opposite with books.  Most of the world building stuff bores me to tears which only damages the pages so badly I have to dump the book in recycling.

This is typically a problem with fantasy and science fiction, for me at least.  There’s just something about being an author of fantasy and science fiction that makes writers want to go on an on about how their imagined worlds work.  Never will you encounter more back story than in a trilogy.  After a few pages, I’m usually desperate for a plot to hang my interest on or characters developed enough for me to care whether or not they live or die.

But I keep buying them and I keep reading them because the covers always look like so much fun and when I find one that works for me I have such a good time.  Thank you Ursula K. LeGuin.

Yes, I do realize that this has all been the critical equivalent of back story/world building just to set up what’s going to be a fairly brief review, one without car crashes at that, but it does help me explain my reaction to Wool by Hugh Howey, the first book in his Silo series of novels, which were originally a self-published series of novellas.

Maybe because the five sections of Wool started out as novellas, the world building is spread throughout the novel as a way to set up a series of shorter plot lines that basically build on each other towards a decent climax in the end.  World building happened as the book went along instead of all at once, letting the reader know just what is needed to understand each story.

But this may also be why it took so long for me to imageread Wool. Weeks.  It’s a long book granted, but it’s not a hard read at all.  Lacking a strong central plot and strong central characters, I found it pretty easy to put down so it ended up taking several weeks for me to read it all.  While I offer this lack of a central plot and central characters as a critique, it’s been an accepted way to write science fiction since Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.  It’s only recently that folks like Jennifer Egan and Elizabeth Strout joined the party.

In spite of all this rambling commentary, I think I will read more of Hugh Howey’s Silo series.  I liked the setting and I enjoyed the story.

Mr. Howey’s world is in our future, far into our future.  What’s left of the human race lives in a large underground silo divided into levels according to function, think a vertical Snowpiercer.  Those who break the law or those who can no longer stand life inside the silo are sent outside to “clean”.  Put into protective suits they leave through an airlock into the poisoned world beyond.  Once outside, each person turns back to face the windows of the silo’s upper level which they clean giving those inside a better view of the devastation beyond the protective glass.

No one knows why they clean, but every single one does.

Until Juliette, a mechanic from the lower levels is sent outside.  Instead of turning back to clean she simply walks off farther than anyone has ever done not to be seen again.  Several weeks later  her voice is heard on an illegal radio.  Where did she go?  How did she survive? Are there other people hiding in other silos somewhere else?

Wool does have an ending final enough not to leave the reader hanging; I can stop now or keep reading to find out what happens next.

I am curious about what happens next, but not exactly driven to find out, which was my main problem with Wool all along.



16 thoughts on “Wool by Hugh Howey

  1. I loved this, and the rest of the series too. And if you google it under images, you’ll see all kinds of very cool representations of the silos!

  2. I read it when the author sent me a free copy after insulting him online. He wrote something nasty about a woman he had a conflict with at some conference. I mentioned it online and disparaged his attitude. I wasn’t the only one. But he ended up deleting the post and among his goodwill efforts he somehow saw my post and sent me a link to a free download. I read it and enjoyed it enough but haven’t been motivated to read any more. As you say, it’s a good enough stopping point.

    1. I guess if you’re writing e-books giving them away is easy. I just may look up the conflict you mention this morning. It’s clear this author has a much bigger story/following than I knew. I’ve only seen the book in Skylight books down in L.A.

  3. Thanks for a great review. My Bookclub bought all 3 books and loved them. But not me. I tried Wool, and didn’t last long – I abandoned it and was not motivated to read the other two. Somehow the characters did not engage me, or maybe it was the pace of the novel. I also experienced the general ennui that you describe. You win some, and you lose some.

      1. My Bk Club would buy only one copy of a novel, and it would be circulated around a group of 8, together with a selection of other fiction. So we didn’t have all 8 members reading simultaneously. I know some Bk Clubs all read the same work simultaneously – this approach is seldom found in South Africa.

  4. I dont read sci fi or fantasy but I do get frustrated with the world building approach in biographies. I really don’t need to know about the person’s three times great grandfather or their second cousin twice removed. I bought the book to know about the person whose biography it is so I just want them to get on with it.

  5. I’ve had the same experience with biographies myself. Why is that a standing trope that they all have to do. Maybe we should just make it a rule to start reading biographies at chapter two.

  6. You have just made me realize what it is about sci fi and fantasy that puts me off. I don’t have the patience to wade through what you so aptly call world building. There’s much more of it in those genres than in most but you can’t skim it too lightly or you don’t know where you are later. 🙂

  7. I love elaborate worldbuilding when it’s presented right, without huge descriptions and pages of exposition. It’s definitely a tricky balance. I thought it was done really well in Wool, with the reader learning with the characters. Really enjoyed the book.

    Haven’t heard great things about the next books, although a few of your commentators seem to love them, so that’s good to see. They’ve been on my to-read list for ages now.

    1. I think he gets close to the right balance between world building and plot in some parts of the book. Overall, I had the sneaky feeling that the purpose of the plot was world building a little too often.

  8. I’ve been recommending Wool around to friends for a couple years. My reaction, I think, was somewhat similar to yours. I enjoyed it and, though long, it was an easy read. I liked the silo environment and how – just like in (my) real (corporate) life – IT is “the enemy.” Upon completion, I immediately purchased the next book and downloaded it, but have never gotten back to it. Most of those I’ve recommended it to have continued on to read the next books and have enjoyed them. Not sure why I haven’t gotten around to proceeding yet. 🙂

    1. I don’t think I’ll read more of the books, but you never know. I just might read the summaries on Wikipedia, just to see what happens. The Wikipedia article is impressive. I guess the books do have a lot of fans out there.

  9. I also tend to get impatient/bored with world-building – like you say, I want a character I’m invested in!

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