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Wool - Omnibus Edition Paperback – January 27, 2012
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This Omnibus Edition collects the five Wool books into a single volume. The first Wool story was released as a standalone short in July of 2011. Due to reviewer demand, the rest of the story was released over the next six months. My thanks go out to those reviewers who clamored for more. Without you, none of this would exist. Your demand created this as much as I did. This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
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Wool: Omnibus Edition is a collection of his first five novellas in the Wool series. The stories are set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the earth’s air has become toxic and the last survivors are forced to live underground in an immense silo with over 130 levels. How the world came to ruin is lost to history. But people know that talking about going outside is punished by being forced to go outside: troublemakers are sentenced to use wool pads to clean the lenses of the silo’s exterior cameras before succumbing to the noxious atmosphere.
There’s as much mystery as science fiction in the first few novellas. Aside from the big question—what caused the apocalypse?—Howey builds his world piece by piece in an investigative format that takes the reader along on a hunt for the truth. Why do people condemned to die still fulfill the ritual of cleaning the cameras? What caused the dimly remembered uprisings in the silo? Who’s keeping all these secrets? Are they right to do so? And why isn’t there a freaking elevator? There are murders to solve too, and while the action is slow-paced at first, Howey turns out to be as ruthless with his characters as George R. R. Martin.
All this—plus heaps of strong writing—would be enough to make me like Wool on its own. But the Omnibus Edition also features beautiful illustrations, many of which are animated. (Even the cover on Amazon has motion to it.) At first, I found the kinetic bits distracting, but I came to enjoy them as the stories developed.
None of this is to say Wool is perfect. I thought the third novella spent too much time rehashing a mystery that had already been solved in the first. And now and then Howey’s descriptions get a touch granular for my tastes. But I’ve never read a flawless “traditionally” published book either, and Wool is better than most.
Because good writing is good writing, no matter who puts it out.
Great Science Fiction takes such a world and fills it with characters who have depth, feeling, and a connection to the reader so that the reader truly cares what happens to them. Villains must be plausible and their evil must be drawn not from just their actions but from their motivations. A Villain who internally believes that he is doing good is the most compelling. The story must be internally consistent and must make sense in the context of the characters, and the story must ultimately have a point to make about the nature of the reader's own life/existence. That's when you have great fiction -- Sci-Fi or not. Robert Heinlein achieved that in Stranger in a Strange Land. Hugh Howey achieves that in the Wool saga.
From the first chapters when we see the deaths of the characters who are first introduced (that's not a spoiler), we care about what's happening, and we're trying to figure out what this world is, how it came to be, what makes it tick, and whether the later-introduced protagonists can make a difference. The texture of the writing draws us into the Silo and the details are spot on, giving us the feel of the place and ultimately that leads to a better understanding. The larger plot arc emerges slowly, integrated carefully into the day-to-day story that the characters are experiencing, and the peripheral characters are each important in their own wan and also drawn with a broad pen with depth and emotion and back-stories that make them as real as the Silo is ultimately terrifying.
It's a story you can't put down and yet you dread to reach the end. I give out five stars seldom and only to works that are great literature and not just great stories. This is a great story and a great work of science fiction. Heinlein would love this.