Wool started of as a self-publishing sensation, and has since become one of the best selling science fiction novels of the last decade.
It is a hard science fiction novel set in a dystopian future. A future where the surface of the Earth has become uninhabitable and humanity is trapped inside an underground silo. Their only knowledge of the outside world coming from grainy viewing screens.
Like any good hard sci-fi novel, the world of Wool is made real through the author’s attention to detail. Each segment of the world is carefully crafted with a scientific basis. And each challenge the characters face is overcome using the scientific method. This adherence to scientific principles drives home the brutality of the world Wool is set in.
“My life is too tight, he wanted to say. My skin is too tight. The walls are too tight.”
Wool is essentially a novel about pressure. All of humanity trapped in a giant underground silo, the constant threat of extinction hovering over their heads. One machine breaking could bring the whole world cascading down.
If you express any desire to leave the Silo your punishment is to be forced outside, where the poisoned air will rot your lungs within minutes.
Howey subtly reminds the reader of this pressure through the hums, thunks and clangs of machinery. And the characters constantly finding themselves constricted and hemmed in, either literally or metaphorically.
Twisting humanity’s purpose
The purpose of the Silo is to keep humanity alive. Yet, as one character states early on in the novel, the purpose of the individuals living in the Silo is to keep the machines in the Silo working. Generations after generations have known no other purpose. This single minded pursuit has twisted humanity into a stunted unnatural form, creating a subtle sense of sadness that roots itself into the novel.
This twisting of humanity’s purpose in the service of a city was reminiscent of Inverted World. Another novel that shows how humanity can be twisted if it is put under constant unbearable pressure.
It’s unsurprising that a novel with such a set-up is something of a mystery. Why is humanity trapped? Can they really not live on the surface? What has been hidden from them? What is clever is the way Howey repeatedly subverts the readers expectations with each reveal.
Often in novels with lots of twists and turns the twists and turns are simply there to keep the reader turning the page. Perhaps Howey’s most impressive feat is that each reveal both surprises the reader and reinforces the wider themes of the novel.
Wool is one of the most refreshing science fiction novels to be published this century, and deserves its place on our ultimate science fiction reading list and our top ten hard science fiction movies.