Wool, by Hugh Howey

wool-uk-cover-finalI’ve read up on the back story behind Hugh Howey’s Wool, and I feel great personal warmth toward the author and his tremendous ascent from the slush pile of self-publication to an actual publisher, rabid fans, and (I sincerely hope) material wealth, but the actual book at the center of this heart-lifting tale is terrible.

There are so many issues I’m not even sure where to begin, so let’s just say there are some big problems and some little problems, with the biggest big problem being the basic concept behind this book. I have no issues with the idea of a massive underground silo being built to house the survivors of some apocalypse. I can accept that the survivors might have a deep fascination with the outside world, even if their only view of that world is through a fuzzy video camera. I don’t even really have a problem with the idea that such a society would devote extremely scarce resources to maintain computer servers for a purpose that most of the population doesn’t know.

But here’s the really stupid idea (note that I’m about to spoil the first story). The principal purpose of these servers — their principal, super secret purpose — is to create a virtual reality program. That program is used in the helmets of hazmat suits worn outside the silo, displaying to the user a verdant scene of renewed life rather than a barren wasteland. The users of those suits are criminals or crazy people who have expressed the forbidden desire to leave the silo. And the point of the deceptive view is to trick those people into cleaning the lenses of the cameras that beam a view of the outside world to the silo’s residents.

Jesus, that idea sounds even stupider now that I’ve typed it out.

There are just a lot of things that don’t make sense about all this. Why are people so obsessed with these cameras? If the cameras are so important, why are only criminals or crazy people sent outside? And is it really the case that a deceptive virtual-reality program is the best use that people can imagine for super-powerful computers and a staggering amount of electricity?!

This is not even to mention that the point of this entire scheme is apparently to maintain social order. I’m afraid to even explain exactly how that’s supposed to work.

Pile onto this silly concept some terrible writing (including an excruciatingly extended passage about knitting) and an unconvincing love story (“I told my mom about you,” the male lead says dramatically at one pivotal moment) and you have a book whose big problems are only the beginning of its troubles.

Because there still remain the little problems, which I’ll address in a series of questions:

  • Where does this very resource-limited silo get manufactured products such as manila envelopes?
  • How can the silo’s mayor — essentially the president — have so much free time and so few responsibilities that she can spend days away from her office just interviewing people?
  • In the last story, is Juliette really going to abandon the people she found, at the very moment when they need serious medical care?
  • And why, in God’s name, doesn’t the silo have an elevator?!



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