Technically, Wool by Hugh Howey is not a novel and thus doesn’t really fit into the ‘novel notions’ category. But I’m going to make it fit because I enjoyed it so immensely. It should, in fact, go into the novelette pigeonhole.
What exactly is a novelette? It’s a story that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella (a novella = a short book). I can’t even type this with a straight face. I have no idea who came up with all of these terms, but whoever it was clearly liked to confuse people. I’m just going to say that Wool is not a novel, it’s a long short story, it’s one of the best sci-fi/dystopian tales I’ve read in a while, and it has some of the most well-executed plot twists I’ve ever seen.
Hugh Howey published Wool through Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing service. Since the rise of ebooks, there has been a lot of stigma surrounding self-published books since people just assume that indie books aren’t “good enough” to be picked up by a traditional publisher. Enter Hugh Howey, proving them all wrong. Originally, he planned Wool to be a stand-alone story, but after it became a best-seller and people started clamoring for more, he wrote five other shorts to accompany it….All self-published, I may add. That takes a lot of hard-work and guts, so kudos to Mr. Howey for taking self-publishing to a whole new level.
But honestly, this story would have been a success no matter what publishing avenue it followed. Just check out the story-line and you’ll know what I’m talking about:
Nobody lives above ground. To go outside of the silo and into the world beyond is certain death. The only way to see above ground is through a video feed that shows a dreary, ugly world outside.
One must never talk about wanting to go out. The rules forbid it.
But somebody has to clean the camera lens outside so that the video feed stays clear. Criminals are sent above ground to wipe the lenses, a death punishment for their crimes. They all say they won’t follow the instructions of those who sentence them to death. They all say they won’t clean. And why would they? But, once they are outside, they always take up their wool pads and clean. They always do it well. And they always die.
At least that’s what people say.
Nobody ever volunteers to go outside. Holston, the law-enforcer of the Silo, has never seen this happen.
Until his wife runs screaming for everyone to hear: “I want to go out.”
She broke the rules. She is sentenced to go outside, clean the lenses, and die. And there is nothing Holston can do about it.
And she says that’s what she wants. She says that there is hope outside, convinced that the world outside isn’t as poisonous as the video feed shows it to be. “Nothing you see is real.” This is what she told Holston the night before she went outside, armed with nothing but her wool cleaning pads.
Now, three years later, Holston is going to follow her, becoming the second person to volunteer to go outside. Because he is starting to think that maybe, just maybe, his wife was right. Maybe there is life outside. And maybe his wife will be waiting for him.
What Hugh Howey did in this novelette goes above and beyond telling a story. He didn’t just slap words onto a page. He painted them on. Carefully, with purpose, drawing emotions and characters and ideas together to tell a story of grief, hope, and the fight to find something more in life. It is truly beautiful.
Not only is the writing spectacular, but the plot is intriguing and the characters compelling. At first, I couldn’t understand why criminals would clean the lenses once they got outside. Or why the world outside was so poisonous. Just when I thought I had figured it out, Howey unleashed a plot twist that made me realize that I had gotten it all wrong. And that surprise ending, man. I’m still reeling from it, and I finished the story a few days ago.
Wool is a spectacular example of a beautifully written story with an intriguing and well-crafted plot. Often, one of these is sacrificed for the other, but Hugh Howey was able to combine them both. An increasingly rare feat and one that isn’t easily overlooked.
In fact, it seems to have caught the eye of some pretty important people. In 2012, the film rights went to Ridley Scott (!!!) and Steve Zaillian in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Howey wrote on his website that “there’s a good chance a film won’t materialize, and if it does, it would be so many years from now that many of you will have moved on to something else.” To which I respond: Nope. Never moving on. I’ll be sitting right here, working my way through the rest of the Silo series (there are 4 more stories) and waiting for the movie.
Wool can be finished in one hour if you’re a speed reader and two hours if you’re a slow poke. There is absolutely no reason to not read this story. So go on, go check it out on Amazon. You won’t regret it.
Have you ever read Wool or any of Hugh Howey’s other works? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Hannah Heath – book worm and aspiring author