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I decided to read Wool following a friend's suggestion and also because I was curious to read a self-published work. I must say I usually have low expectations for these books, not only for failing to be published by a house (that can be for a lot of reasons beyond the work's quality) but also because there's a load of crap e-published these days. Hugh Howey had me surprised and convinced and I had to force myself to stop reading it all night long, such was my curiosity about the plot and the world he created. I couldn't write a proper review by the time I finished reading but although I don't like writing about a book long after I read it for fear of my opinion loosing quality and detail, I felt it was unfair not to share how much I liked this work. I'll avoid a synopsis or plot details as much as possible because one of the best things about reading Wool is the suspense felt throughout and that feeling one is looking into a new world through a tiny window. I read the omnibus version, collecting all the five parts of this story.
Wool is a post-apocalyptic story, in which we are shown a small society living isolated from the world in an underground silo. The only ones "allowed" outside are the worst criminals, mainly the ones who dream exactly of going out and exploring the world once more. The rest of the people are left viewing the one leaving - as if it was a medieval execution - dying quickly in spite of the protective suit, though not before he has time to clean the sensors that allow the silo to see that part of the outside world. The author alternates between some characters' point-of-view, avoiding a typical omniscient narrator that would spoil the skin-crawling mystery and the tendency the reader can't help but have to try and solve it over and over again. The world and the plot are revealed remarkably slow and steady, with some flashbacks and parallel stories without ever becoming tiresome. Even reading the omnibus one notices the five separate parts that in fact correspond to two stories, but it has no negative effect on the reading experience. If any, it felt even more interesting, though I was happy to have all the volumes to read non-stop. The political system is, as one would expect in this setting, based on the control of information and social and professional status, a more than physical distancing between the people and the prohibition of certain conversations, expressions or words. A matter-of-fact "Big Brother is watching you" with the predictable efficacy of being applied to an enclosed society, with the silo's levels used to separate the social groups. The silo isn't only here to create a limit, the author makes the most of the concept of limited space and resources and it's impact on the organization of the community and on each one's personal life that is at times actually painful to think of. Wool's society is ultra-regulated, with it's foremost value being security and some associated predictability of people's behaviour, so that they are only allowed to know what is essential for their survival and contribution to the community and live in a conformed fear. One feels that they survive with the single purpose of surviving, doing everything just the same as always and expecting everything to keep going smoothly and unwavering. This is all conveyed by the author especially with some of his descriptions of daily unremarkable procedures, that are specified step by step and to such detail that, if sometimes almost over the top, on the other hand is awesome in placing one's mind exactly where it should be to feel Wool. The characters are interesting, have depth, and though sometimes acting a bit too immaturely, I was left thinking if that is more due to their life (or absence of life experiences) than to some kind of failure by the author. Their development was very well executed with perhaps one less credible exception.
As it is, Wool is a great example of what one can achieve with a dystopian futuristic work with a surprising but believable world and interesting characters with whom one can empathize and who take us on an excellent if often scary voyage and leave us thinking about what is the core of the human being, what is left after all of us have been destroyed, isolated, lied to and controlled for hundreds of years. There is no better science fiction, or actually no better literature, than that where the world-building and the characters the inhabit it cooperate in conveying the message to the reader, never overwhelming or dissolving themselves on each other. I'm a fan of this story and of the author and I can't wait to get my hands on the recently published Shift, prequel to Wool. Lastly, I must also congratulate Hugh Howey on his accomplishment, not only for his perseverance but also for the quality of his work (now published on paper by Century - Random House Books) and for selling the rights for a film that Fox is producing and Ridley Scott might be directing.
This review was originally published in Portuguese and English on my blog.