In Second Shift: Order, the seventh installment in the WOOL stories by Hugh Howey, we learn more of the details of how this society descended into its post-apocalyptic world. The story recounts the tale of an impending uprising in Silo 18. The action is recounted through two different characters. The first is Mission, a young porter in Silo 18, and the second is Donald, and IT supervisor in Silo 1, the main administrative silo. Between the two of them, you see both the personal and impersonal views of what a revolution means, how it starts, is maintained, and possibly succeeds or fails.
Howey is doing something that I think is fairly unusual in dystopian literature; he is taking time to fully explain how the apocalypse came about and how a society can be transitioned from an individualistic to a community-oriented one. There is a fairly sophisticated argument being worked out in the story regarding contemporary issues such as preventative war, human rights, individual liberties, and the tradeoff between security and freedom. There is also an even more important subtext about the role of secrecy in governing, both in regards to keeping secrets from the citizens en masse, and keeping secrets from other leaders, and possibly even from yourself.
Dystopia literature as a genre isn’t full of fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but there is something about focusing on the descent into autocracy, rather than the fight against it, that adds an extra level of somberness to the proceedings. Making the motivations of the antagonists clear and understandable adds a level of complexity to the story — these aren’t just mustache-twirling caricatures, but recognizable humans with plausible motivations.
I recommend this latest installment in the WOOL series. The sixth and seventh books in this series serve as prequels to the original WOOL omnibus. This prequel arc, which is called SHIFT, will be finished with the eighth story, due in 2013. Howey has said that if you want to wait until the eighth book comes out, you will be able to buy all three stories in an omnibus edition that is cheaper than buying them each individually. But I have never been good at waiting for excellent fiction. It’s worth the extra pennies to not have to wait.