The Wool Omnibus, Hugh Howey (Broad Reach Publishing, 2012)

(Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopia)

wool-uk-cover-finalGrade: Β — (Beta) Fantastic book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that may not appeal to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. 

In brief:

Wool by Hugh Howey is one of the great examples of self-publishing done right.  Starting with single short story that was complete in itself, Howey built a dark and gripping series of stand alone shorts that meld beautifully into a great novel.  Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, strong characters, well written conspiracies and a strong and dark sense of place make this a book that is very hard to put down.


Earth, likely America, in a huge bunker called the Silo.  Outside is a post-apocalyptic world where the atmosphere is hideously corrosive, or so they say….

Hugh_C_Howey_Wool_OmnibusIn Depth:

The remarkable success of the Wool Omnibus and its subsequent Silo series is no accident.  Neither is it a case of fitting an unanticipated niche[1] in the market.  Wool has been successful because it is a really good story that is really well written.  Okay, it does have a little bit to do with good timing for its placement in the market, but no more than any suddenly successful book does.  Really, it is doing well and has ‘hype’ because of the skill and talent of the author.

For those of you who do not know, the Wool Omnibus is, in one sense, a collection of five connected short stories gathered together in a single volume.[2] To my mind, however, it is really two short stories that were written as stand-alones in a series,  packaged with a novella that was originally released in serialized format.[3] Yet no matter define it, The Wool Omnibus stands as a single book that that comes to a very satisfying conclusion at the end of the volume.  What is more, within its pages (paper or otherwise), each story leads logically into the next. To that end, despite the fact there are two sequels, it is a satisfying book in and to it’s own right that room for new tales to follow, but gives a compelling at its close.

HughHoweyWebWhat is it about?  Well, that is a bit hard to go into without giving bits away, but I’ll try all the same.  As noted above, it is set in a post apocalyptic future.  We do not know exactly what has caused this apocalypse, but we do know the end result is that people are living in an immense underground bunker called the Silo.[4]  Within this great bunker, people live on levels that, at least superficially seem to reflect their social status: government is at the top, menial and mechanical workers at the bottom, with food production and the IT department somewhere in the middle. The technology in the book seems to have degraded a bit over time,[5] so that much of what we see seems more akin to 1970s or 80’s tech than present day.  It’s clear, however, that the society of the Silo is struggling.  Resources are limited, life is tough, and one of the few pleasures permitted the inhabitants is sitting in the topmost floor of the bunker and looking at the wasteland that is the outside world.  The problem, however, is that dirt and grime build up on the lenses that provide that view.  That is where the Cleaning comes in.

woolThe Cleaning is both a punishment and a right that can be claimed by anyone in the Silo.  Basically, if a person commits a crime, or for whatever reason just can’t take living in a giant underground silo anymore, they are given a protective chemical suit and put outside the Silo.  Once there, the person must clean the lenses on the outside viewers and then may do as they please.  The problem is no one has ever gotten out of view before the corrosive atmosphere eats away one’s suit and lets the burning toxins in.  Why, then would people actually clean the lenses when this is so clearly a death sentence?  Well, there in lies the tale… or part of it at least.

wooloverlaidgoodbadTo tell too much more about the story would undermine the enjoyment of it.  After all, each short story within it has its own reveals, and even though some of these reveals were obvious to me, others were not even though they had been telegraphed perfectly well beforehand.  Yet plot twists aside, what really pulled me through the tale was not the secrets or reveals, but the characters.  Indeed, it is Howey’s skill at building flawed but sympathetic characters and put them into dire situations that truly drove this story.

And really, that is about all I can tell you about this book without in some way diminishing the reading of it.  If you hate science fiction… well even then you might enjoy this book… but if you like Sci-Fi, or even just don’t mind it, this really is a must read.  Don’t let the fact there are sequel novels put you off: you get a full and satisfying read in this book alone.

[1] As many say Fifty Shades of Grey did.  I don’t know, I haven’t read the book, but most critics note it is poorly written, but happened to fit a niche in erotica that had not been recently explored.

[2] And indeed, you can still buy each short story on its own. Buying the omnibus, however, is considerably more affordable.  Having said that, at the time of this writing the first of the short stories was offered for Free on Amazon and so you can get a taster for it.  What’s more, the first story stands totally alone, so if you didn’t want to find out what happens next (which seems impossible to me), you can read an excellent piece of short fiction for free and feel perfectly content at its conclusion.

[3] Albeit one that was sold in serialized form.

[4] Thus the name of the series as a whole.

[5] I honestly don’t know how far in the future the story is supposed to be set.  In one sense it doesn’t matter.  In another sense that lack of certainty adds to the tale.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Conspiracy Novel, Cycle, Dystopian, Hard SciFi, Identity, Near Future fic, Part of A Series but can be Read without reading previous volumes, Post-Apocolyptic, Ripping Yarn, Saga, Science Fiction, Serial, Series, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Thriller, Trilogy, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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