In his debut novel (originally self-published in individual novellas on Amazon.com), Hugh Howey’s dystopian science fiction novel Wool is a wonderful idea that unfortunately is never fully utilized. In Wool, an underground silo is home to a large number of people hundreds of years following a mysterious end to civilization as we know it today. The ultimate punishment is referred to by the residents as a “cleaning,” in which the criminal is forced into the outside world where they furiously scramble to clean the tower sensors before the contaminated air eats through their bio-suits and flesh. It is a simple and straightforward process, but Holston and Juliette—sheriff of the upper level and worker at Mechanical Level respectively—both stumble upon secrets that force them to reconsider everything they’ve been raised to believe, including the origin of the silo itself and how underground life began; or perhaps most importantly, why.
The writing is mostly average, the plot painfully predictable, and the scenes that are supposed to cause sorrow and sympathy are played out in a way that is too hackneyed for the reader to truly care. There are flashes of briliance with the prose and plot development, but it is nearly ruined by how predictable it is, not to mention that Howey rarely seems to want to let his readers think for themselves. Another problem with the story is how unbelievable some of the events that take place are. For example [minor spoiler]: a character breaks his arm but is still somehow able to aim a rifle at an upward angle on a staircase, shooting two people without missing once despite those people being on higher levels than him. The obvious pain in his arm—where shrapnel from a bomb is also embedded within his flesh and bone—doesn’t affect his ability whatsoever. Add this to the fact that this person had maybe five, ten minutes of training with a firearm beforehand, otherwise having never even seen a firearm. Unrealistic happenings like this are the biggest eyesore of the novel’s readability.
However, what saves Howey is the characterization and dialogue, for those two areas are clearly his greatest strengths, even if a handful of the minor characters often come off as recycled versions of more important characters. Despite this strength in characterization and dialogue I still didn’t care enough about the story to read the sequel. An idea that could have been great, an instant classic even, stalled because the writing left too much on the table.