We’re reading WOOL, by Hugh Howey

21 Jan

January 2013

Terry Edge feels fleeced – but in a good way

Forget all those thrown-together self-published novels that try to ape the more commercial tricks of traditional publishing. Wool is exactly the kind of book self-publishing should produce: full of integrity to its story and just the kind of fully-committed, transporting, experience true readers long for.


Wool is set in a future where thousands live their entire lives inside a huge silo with hundreds of floors connected by a staircase. Outside, the land is wasted and the air is toxic. Anyone who questions the order is sent ‘cleaning’ outside the silo, to their death. If you look too closely, there are logistical flaws to this created world, and Howey’s writing doesn’t always find the balance between realism and analogy that would totally excuse them. But these small flaws don’t finally matter because of Howey’s obvious love of what he’s writing.

True, he tends to drop his characters into silos. Most of the characters tend to trail behind the plot, rather than driving it. Jules, the lead, is admirable, gutsy and brave, but her early love of machines isn’t really enough to explain why she later becomes so politically motivated. Only Bernard, the villainous manipulator, is given a degree of ambiguity – but then, that’s often the way with the bad guys.

I doubt that this book would have been taken on at the outset by a traditional publisher. I can see editorial committees worrying that it’s a bit too retro – too many shades of Heinlein and Herbert who aren’t “today” enough; it might fit the Hamilton market but the author would need to add more characters and get rid of that weird silo idea. Instead, what Wool needed is what it got: to be left alone to find its own readers.

The author quite often replies to his reader reviews on Amazon. This is almost always a Very Bad Idea. But Howey’s responses come across with exactly the same integrity as his fiction. Perhaps another traditional rule bites the dust, then, in the wake of this absorbing novel.

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