Dystopia Review: ‘Wool Omnibus’ by Hugh Howey

The first ‘Wool’ novella was quick, smart dystopia that ended with a punch to the gut.  It focused on Holston, sheriff of The Silo.  The silo is a huge underground facility holding the survivors of an unknown apocalypse.  Holston is a man haunted by the memory of his wife, who three years ago was sent out for “cleaning.”  Cleaning is a punishment for those who express interest in the world outside the silo; it consists of suiting up, going into the toxic atmosphere, and cleaning the lenses that show the barren outside landscape.  For reasons unknown, no one has ever failed to do the actually cleaning.  I read the short novella in a single sitting, said “WOW!,” and immediately acquired the omnibus containing all five books.

The next four stories never quite lived up to the first one, but the omnibus was entertaining throughout.  After a fairly… well boring… second installment, the quality in novellas three through five kept me hooked.  Often the strength of a dystopia lies in the unknown; rarely do I find authors know how to keep the suspense once the world becomes familiar to readers.  This series suffers from that some, but the author does a very good job at adding new mysteries in each installment without turning to gimmicks.

One thing I appreciated was a fairly diverse cast of characters from story to story.  Holston was the tired lawman, the second story dealt with a strong elderly woman, while the last three spread the love among several different characters.  All of the characters felt human; each with their own fears and desires.  Nobody was a superhero and nobody was pure evil.

I don’t know if I bought into the entire psychology of the ‘cleanings’ as details emerged.  In fact the entire way the silos are ran behind the scenes works better if you don’t really think it through.  The inevitable showdown that could be expected in a story like this really distracted from the nice character based story that was building and focused too much on action.  And I still have not figured out the timing or necessity of a certain plot changing sneak attack in the fifth book.

Minor qualms, the omnibus was enjoyable and a real page turner.  If there was a deeper message like many dystopias profess to have it went right over my head, I treated it as nothing more than a highly entertaining story.  Even if the omnibus doesn’t appeal, everyone should go download the first Wool novella.  But I have the feeling if you do I won’t be the only one who immediately grabs the next four.

3 1/2 stars

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