Your life, the life of everyone you know, is confined inside the silo, a community of thousands that includes mines, shops, apartments and factories. Views of the wider world, the one outside the silo that is a deadly place of toxic air and swirling dust storms, are limited; just talking about that world carries the most severe penalty possible: being sent to clean.
In the world created by Hugh Howey (@hughhowey) in the awesomely good Wool Omnibus Edition, “cleaning” is certainly not the innocent, probably necessary but certainly boring activity we think of at the mention of it. Cleaning means being sent outside, to perform an elaborate ritual of scrubbing the sensors that provide those limited glimpses of the devastated world beyond the silo’s airlock.
After you scrub, you die — a victim of the poisoned environment which no protective suit devised has been able to hold back. A few sentenced to cleaning (all it takes is to say aloud that you want to go outside) have defiantly said they won’t scrub, but in the history of the silo everyone has. At the beginning of Wool, Sheriff Holston decides he wants to go outside, to rejoin his wife, who made the same decision three years earlier and whose body is visible on the cafeteria viewscreen.
Holston’s decision, the seemingly suicidal act of a heartbroken man, sets into motion a devastating chain of events that will rock the silo community to the core. No spoilers, but Wool is one of the most entertaining, imaginative, intelligent and addictive tales I’ve ever read and I give it my highest possible recommendation — six stars wouldn’t be enough.
The author’s prose is smooth and his characters and the world of the silo are richly developed, reminding me a lot of the best of Stephen King. There are big issues at play in Wool — human nature, good and evil, what compromises are acceptable for survival — but Mr. Howey weaves them into the narrative with such a light touch that the plot never slows as the truth about the silo and its inhabitants is revealed.
If, like me, you read the Wool Omnibus and want more, there are two follow-on entries in the series: Shift Omnibus and Dust. Although Shift is a prequel, many have recommended reading it after Wool. For more on Mr. Howey and his writing, visit his website.