We’re happy to welcome back reviewer Ruth Arnell from retirement!
WOOL is the omnibus edition of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series. The first book in the series, Wool, is more of a short story. I don’t even think it hits novella length. It would be just a good-sized chapter in some epic brick. And what do you do at the end of a particularly good chapter? You just turn the page and keep reading.
That’s something to keep in mind for anyone who plans on reading the WOOL books. Just buy the omnibus edition, because you will want to keep reading when you get to the end of the first story. And then you will yell at the book and want to keep reading at the end of the third. And by the time you get to the fourth, you will just think, “I can ignore my family for a few more hours because I really need to keep reading this right now because I am freaking going to kill someone if they keep me from finding out what happens next.” I will admit, I was reading WOOL on my Kindle while proctoring exams, and gave at least one student the stink-eye for interrupting me to ask a question. And so I am reviewing them all together, because I tend to think of this as one story, released in serialized form like novels from 50 years ago. Amazon puts the print edition at 548 pages, which honestly would just make Robert Jordan fart in the general direction of this tome.
So, back to the story. What has got me all lathered up?
These are the books that THE HUNGER GAMES wishes they could be when they grow up. Set in a dystopian future, humanity has retreated to a silo buried underground, their only connection to the world a series of cameras that show the brown dessicated surface and the crumbling remnants of skyscrapers in the distance. Under strict controls governing every aspect of their lives — where they work, when they reproduce, where they live — people are kept underground, forbidden to even talk about going outside. If you do talk about outside, the punishment is simple. They make you go outside. And there you will die within seconds, killed by the toxic atmosphere that shreds any sort of protection. But what happens when one woman thinks she has learned the truth about outside? Is it all really a lie? Are they being kept here against their will, without even the knowledge to have a will?
I don’t want to go into the plot too much, because Hugh Howey throws a couple of loops that I don’t want to spoil for anyone else, but these books mirror the same level of dystopian ingenuity as Huxley or Orwell, combined with a Martinian flair for killing off main characters. Anyone with a name has the possibility of being killed, and lots of the people without names too.
But this isn’t violence for the sake of noble sacrifice or villainish emphasis. This is political violence, and Howey makes an argument about the idiocy and simultaneous logic of the use of political violence, totalitarianism and rhetorical manipulation that places this work among those that grace many a college literature class. I think WOOL is destined to become a classic of science fiction that is equally thought-provoking and entertaining.
While this is not what I would consider young adult literature, I think it will have broad appeal to younger readers as well, especially those who got turned on to dystopian novels by the HUNGER GAMES books. There are a few swear words, but the level of graphic content it contains pales in comparison to other young adult novels. While there may be a few minor flaws — a moment or two where the pacing drags or the characters pontificate a moment too long — this is the book that I will be foisting upon all my friends telling them, “You need to read this.” And I mean all my friends, not just the ones who typically read genre fiction.
Also, the book is an elaborate knitting metaphor. That’s just awesome.