“Wool” Hugh Howey

This book pushes so many of my buttons (in a good way) – it’s post-apocalypse, it’s not a generation ship* but in many ways it’s the same as a generation ship. And it’s got that thing that hooks me into Sherri S. Tepper’s books (but without the Moral) – there’s something rotten deep in the centre of the society and half the fun is figuring it out as the characters do. (Not quite as straightforward as it being a dystopia, something about the way the rottenness is set-up/revealed.)

*J points out that he didn’t know what I meant by generation ship, so perhaps I should explain 🙂 I mean a spaceship travelling to another star at below light-speed, and all the people in it are awake, so over the time of the journey there are several generations and gradually the society stops believing in anything other than the ship. Normally in these sorts of stories there’s also some disaster (contrived or natural) that means records are lost.

The whole world that the protagonists know consists of an underground bunker, which has just one set of observation screens on the top floor out of the hundred or so floors. Society has stratified – engineers are in the lower levels and keep the place running but aren’t really appreciated for it. IT are important, and it’s not quite clear why to start with, and they’ve got a whole floor/suite of floors to themselves. The middling floors have the middling people. And up the top are people like the mayor, the sheriff and other officials. And the viewing screens, showing the dead dead world outside.

Resources are limited as you’d expect in that sort of scenario – they might as well be in a spaceship. If you want to have children you & your spouse need to win the lottery after someone dies. And expressing any interest in the outside world is firmly squashed – if you dare say it out loud then you are sentenced to “cleaning”. Out you go in a suit to clean the cameras for the view screens, and die in the toxic atmosphere when the suit inevitably gives way. Everyone who’s sentenced says they won’t clean, and then they do … and the first part of the book ends with an explanation of that, from the point of view of the man doing the cleaning. But there’s something rotten in the centre of this society and we haven’t found it yet, just the first hints.

Not going to spoil the book, that would be a shame. But it does make it a bit hard to talk about 🙂

I liked the way the various characters felt nuanced and real. The character I was least keen on was the chap who seemed to be there just to be the love interest, but thinking about it a bit more he’s actually also doing something useful in the book in terms of showing us what’s going on. So not just the love interest. And the antagonist isn’t a moustache-twirling villain, you can see he’s the hero of his own story even if what he does is repugnant. You can even sympathise with the aims of some of the rottenness – this is a resource limited pressure-cooker environment and wide-spread disorder could be completely fatal. But the methods are not something I can sympathise with even as I can see that it’s being done out of a sense that this is the best way to do it.

There’s an excerpt for the next book in the series (trilogy?) at the end, and it looks like it’ll go back to the beginning and tell us how the world got to the state it’s in in this book. There’s still something rotten at the centre, and we haven’t got there yet. I’ve got that reserved from the library now. (Thinking about buying these, but I think I want to know if the next book is as good first.)