Amy Foster
January 06, 2014 10:00 am

Once in a while, a book comes around and is so darned good, you kind of inhale it instead of reading. Wool is such a book.

The origins of how the book came to be are worth noting, too, because this was not a media sensation “manufactured” by a big publishing conglomerate. This was a book that began as a short story written by a guy named Hugh Howey. He wrote this short story and self-published it. The reviews were so amazing and the demand became so intense for more that he continued on with the characters and all five stories became a novel called Wool. (Side note: the collection does read like a novel, and not like random short stories.)

Howey then went on to explore the world’s origins in the omnibus Shift and concluded the series this year with Dust. It’s the kind of thing that every author dreams of, especially those that are self-published. Ridley Scott acquired the film rights and Random House acquired the print rights for seven figures. However, Howey, smart business man that he is, retained his digital rights.

So what is this book all about? Well, it’s sort of like The Hunger Games meets 1984 meets Fahrenheit 451. Although it’s clearly dystopian in genre, I would say that it was far more thriller than sci-fi.  The interesting twist? Wool takes place in a silo, an underground bunker, where a population of thousands has been left for generations to survive. Every level of its 150 plus levels has a purpose. There are farm levels, manufacturing levels, upper levels for management and the Down Deep where the generators power the entire structure and miners look for more coal to fuel the machines. There is no explanation as to why they are there or how long they have been there.

All we know from the very beginning pages of the story is that the sheriff has suddenly, without reason, volunteered to “clean”. Cleaners are sent out of the silo in suits that protect them just long enough to clean the sensor windows, so that if the inhabitants want to make the long trek up to the top level (the silo is so big that from top to bottom the journey takes days), they can see the bleak landscape outside. They clean the windows with a steel wool pad (hence the name of the book) and that being done, the suit fails them and the toxic air outside kills them.

Major infractions of the laws inside the silo generally end with the perpetrator being sent out to clean. Even wondering out loud what it might be like outside or conveying any kind of wish to go outside can be enough to get sent out there, though there are some that simply go crazy and volunteer. When the mayor and deputy of the silo recruit Juliette Nichols, a genius mechanic from the Down Deep to take over the sheriff’s job, the plot really starts moving. The society is hierarchical; the closer you are to the top, the more power and status you have. Juliet doesn’t want the position, but she reluctantly agrees, only to try and enact some change for her fellow citizens in the Down Deep that are often left to fend for themselves.

After moving into the old sheriff’s apartment, she begins to wonder more about him and wonder why he would have ever volunteered to clean. Curious by nature and naturally wary, Juliette starts asking dangerous questions about her predecessor. Questions that those in IT, the most secretive level of the silo, do not want her asking.

You think you know what’s going on. Trust me, you don’t. The book is riveting and the movie (Ridley Scott!) will be even more amazing. Looking for a great read to cozy up on the couch with during a cold January day? This is it.

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