Simon & Schuster, 528 pages, $15.99 (c2011)
“Wool” was a free ebook that grew so fast in popularity that now it is a print book. Yes, I do firmly believe that an author should be rewarded with cash, moolah, dinero, and greenbacks if he or she provides us with a meaningful book. Whether they provide us with information, entertainment, enlightenment, or the sheer joy of owning an unread book, authors are precious to us.
This is “Wool”: Hundreds, if not thousands, of people live in a giant underground structure they call “the silo.” Each person has a job. Each person has enough to eat. There are sensors that transmit images of the landscape above ground. The surface is bleak and, so the story goes, the atmosphere is noxious. Everything looks dead, including the corpses strewn on the landscape. They are uniformly dressed in containment outfits that look as though they would protect the people from the deadly environment. So why are they dead? They were sent out to clean the sensors as punishment for heresy, traitorous acts, insurrection, and none of them ever returned to the silo. No one knows why the castaways chose to clean the sensors — as each of them did — instead of just hightailing it over the hill, and no one knows why they died.
Juliette was born and raised in the upper levels — there are about 150 levels all together. However, her calling took her to the bottom levels, to maintenance, where she was a gifted mechanic. Although she is young, inexplicably to her, she has been drafted to be the next sheriff of the silo, replacing the last sheriff who voluntarily chose to go outside and clean. Why? No one truly knows.
Once she accepts the job, she finds herself with a brutal enemy, Bernard of IT. What is the sway that Bernard has over the silo? After visiting IT, the thoughtful and sincere mayor of the silo, Jahns, is murdered. She becomes Juliette’s first case and burden.
Hugh Howey knows how to create tension. He knows how to create great characters. His invented world is fascinating and when he finally gives us a little more information about how our great big world (for we assume it is Earth where the action takes place) got to this point, it only dimly illuminates. Thus the need for a set of prequel stories (“Shift”) and follow-up stories (“Dust”). Nevertheless, “Wool” is a complete and complex beginning.
The mystery isn’t in solving the murders, it’s in finding out what makes the silo tick and following Juliette as she fights for her survival. Good one, Hugh Howey!