Reviews: Wool

Imagine If a Fallout Game Never Let the Player Leave The Vault

Wool begins very well. It tells the story of a group of post-apocalyptic survivors who’s entire understanding of existence – their entire universe – consists of their giant concrete bunker and the toxic wasteland immediately surrounding them. We are quickly introduced to a succession of really interesting characters, each having lived in this restrictive society for a long time, and each illustrating their own way of coping with “the silo"… and then the book switches to a boring, attractive, young person who muddles her way through the rest of the story.

Wool squanders its strong start with a character who is two steps behind the audience at all times. We read on and on, waiting for her to finally figure out things we have been explicitly told about half the book ago, and I don’t understand what the writer, hugh Howey, is trying to achieve by putting us through this. Perhaps it was an attempt to create tension through dramatic irony, like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ticking time-bomb situations. But such tension is never even established, and the irony never used. Meanwhile, the nature of this kind of story telling is that anything set up as a twist can’t be a twist because we were forewarned about it ages ago.

There are also peculiar pacing issues, in which the book will spend ages on one particular situation and then rush through another in seemingly no time at all. We have about half a dozen chapters devoted to one person’s underwater mission, and about a half dozen sentences devoted to the outbreak of a full blown civil war. Speaking of the civil war, the reason for why it even happens scarcely makes sense. Without going into spoilers, a huge amount of importance is placed on every last prisoner in the silo behaving in the exact same way, once they are pushed out of the bunker to their death. At no point are we presented with a plausible explanation for why the prisoners all behave the same, nor why the people of the silo go apeshit if they don’t.

I think I might have enjoyed the original short story a lot more; that a lot of Wool problems wouldn’t have been apparent in its initial short story release, and that I wouldn’t have chance to get bored with the setting (it almost entirely takes place in one blandish locale). As a full length novel though, the plot holes and unanswered questions are a lot harder to miss, and I just found the whole thing to be confusing and irritating. I am not going to hold out for the sequels.