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Literature / Wool

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Welcome to the Silo. Beware the Cleaning.

Wool is a series of self-published post-apocalyptic novellas written by Hugh Howey. Originally a single short story, the surprisingly large popular reaction led to its continuation.

Something has happened to the world. What, exactly, has been lost to the mists of time and the ravages of rebellion, but all one has to do is look at the screens, where images from the cameras outside are projected, and see the brown, dead landscape covered by endless black clouds to know that going outside would be suicide. Instead, everyone lives in the silo. A massive, 146-floor building dug into the earth. For countless generations everyone has lived here, being born, growing up reading some of the rare children's books that survived the last uprising, applying for permission to take a lover, winning the lottery to have a child, and then dying, having one's remains turned into fertilizer for the essential crops.

In many ways the Silo is like a normal city: It has mechanics, a sheriff and deputies, a mayor, farmers, clerks, and even IT staff. The only thing it doesn't truly have is freedom. There are taboo topics, and so much as mentioning them is grounds to be sent to "cleaning", the fatal job of removing the grime and soot that coat the lenses of the external cameras, the silo's only link to the outside world.


But some people don't care about taboos, they want the truth, and their actions end up setting in motion events that could well destroy the entire city...

This series provides examples of

  • Abusive Parents: Implied through Lukas's response to a poorly chosen metaphor on Bernard's part.
    "You will have to be cruel to your children so as not to lose them."
    Lukas thought of his father.
  • After the End: A basic part of the setting. Finding out the cause of it all is a minor plot point throughout the story.
  • Artifact Title: Wool has a lot more to do with the first novella than any of the following ones.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Juliette has some minor instances, especially since she has to do a lot of little fiddly things with tools or navigation while stark blind on multiple occasions.
  • Awful Truth: It's no surprise that the apocalypse was mankind's fault. The fact that the Silo-builders systematically planned and carried it out entirely on purpose, on the other hand...
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  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Want to leave the stifling confines of the Silo? Well, if you insist...
  • Crazy-Prepared: Some characters have questions as to how the Silo builders were seemingly the only people able to predict the Polluted Wasteland that the world would become far enough ahead to plan for it so thoroughly. Of course, it's quite easy when you planned and kickstarted the apocalypse too.
  • Character Development: Lukas, as Bernard tutors him into being the next head of IT. Instead of becoming evil and smug, Lukas just kind of finds his purpose in life and tries to learn from the mistakes of everyone's shared past. Juliette, at the same time, expands her perspective due to the events of the story and shapes her life based on that.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Bernard may be a evil bastard, but his final act is a selfless one.
  • December–December Romance: Jahns and Marnes.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Suffice it to say, Juliette and Lukas become the main protagonists starting from around the halfway point of the plot.
  • Determinator: Solo, who has kept it together for 34 years since his mid-teens, in hostile conditions with no one to talk to. He's still sane, in fact, if severely traumatized. He seems to have infected Juliette, who undergoes a one person underwater excavation mission soon after meeting him.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: For some reason, every condemned criminal sent out to clean ends up actually doing so. Except for Jules, who decides to go off exploring with what little time she has left, as one last gesture against all the corruption.
    • There's slightly more to it in that the viewscreen on the environment suits fools the condemned into seeing a certain something that isn't actually there, which acts as subtle but nigh foolproof psychological incentive to clean the Silo's cameras. Juliette actually figured this out at the last minute, and so ignores the evidence of her eyes and goes to do whatever.
  • Downer Ending: Some of the novellas, especially the early parts, though the story as a whole is closer to Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • The Dragon: Lukas to Bernard, with the twist that Lukas is way too inoffensive to ever be evil. In fact, his natural thirst for knowledge turns it into quite a learning experience, while his grade A bullshit-dealing helps mask the fact that he is head-over-heels in love with and collaborating with The Hero and Bernard's nemesis.
  • Dystopian Edict: Expressing the desire to leave the Silo or explore the outside world is forbidden, lest it become the first spark of a rebellion.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Ultimately what the novellas become. Good people die, are seriously injured, and suffer mental breakdowns, but in the end things start looking up.
  • 11th-Hour Ranger: Sheriff Peter Billings, more or less a puppet figure, is convinced by Lukas to follow his heart and do the right thing. Since the Sheriff is nominally a very powerful figure, Peter was able to finally shut down Bernard and his scheming.
  • Exact Words: Why you should always specify the "here" when you declare, "Screw This, I'm Outta Here!" inside the Silo
    Bernard: You heard the man. Lukas Kyle, IT engineer first class, says he wants out.
  • Foreshadowing: A lot -
    • Bernard’s arrogance and IT’s slowly revealed political power and privileges signal that they’re the actual power in the silo, and not the mayor or sheriff.
    • The heat tape Juliette procured under the table from Supply that was intended for IT failed almost immediately - because it’s supposed to, as it’s a part of the cleaning suits sabotage to make sure all cleaners die.
    • The overall inefficiency of the silo’s construction, especially given how even an elevator or more open digital network would solve so may problem, is because the silo is designed to allow IT to rule from behind the scenes.
    • The Silo’s complexity, and the existence of so many others, which is unusual for a dystopian setting, is because they were built by the people who intentionally triggered the apocalypse on purpose.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Not that many gadgets, but Juliette is a mechanical prodigy and an amateur watch-maker, and she whips up a lot of small and large scale tools like diving suits and draining pumps from first principles.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Arguably Bernard: He expresses extreme disgust, if not hatred, at what's been done to the world, but also sees everything he does as necessary for humanity's continued survival, even if that means adopting the tactics of those who destroyed it.
  • It's Been Done: Sometimes, that nifty bit Lost Common Knowledge you've spent so much time rediscovering really isn't. Pretty much all of it, in fact.
    "No more of this business with the stars, okay son? We know where most of them are."
  • Kirk Summation: Juliette's final words to Bernard. Ends up getting him lynched and her elected mayor when responsible citizens listen in.
  • Lost Common Knowledge: Enough info about the past has been lost that people aren't quite sure if children's books have drawings of a blue and green earth because they're fantasy lands or because the Earth actually used to be like that. It turns out the very highest levels of IT preserved just about all of it and just keep a lid on it to limit any potential sources of politically subversive ideas. Once Bernard has Lukas officially brought into the management of Project Fifty, he tells him to stop it with that whole business of documenting stars - Not because it's potentially subversive, but because It's Been Done.
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: The shadowing system.
  • Meaningful Echo: Lukas repeats a lesson Jules taught him in a discussion with Bernard to covertly suggest his actual opinion of Bernard's tutelage.
    Lukas: We can't control where we are right now, just what we do going forward.
    Bernard: Wise words.
  • Meaningful Name: Juliette. She eventually ends up with a love interest in the enemy camp, who, like the balcony scene, she can speak to but not touch.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Bernard would've quietly taken control of the Silo without any trouble if he hadn't murdered a mechanic who wanted to expand the Silo downwards a few floors, which led to an investigation, which led to Jules being pegged for Sheriff. Then he does it again when he sends her out to clean, giving her a chance to become a messiah figure.
    • Finally, there's Bernard's insistence on installing Peter Billings as Sheriff. It turns out Peter's more devoted to justice than he expected.
  • Never Suicide: Definitely the case with Scottie, and Jules suspects it is for Marnes as well.
  • No Sex Allowed: A variation on the trope. Sex is totally allowed - for registered couples.
  • The Obi-Wannabe: Bernard wants Lukas to see him as a sort of fatherly mentor figure as he passes on his knowledge of how to govern the Silo, aware neither that his advice is rather poor, nor that his apprentice is quietly ignoring all of it.
  • Patchwork Story
  • Power Trio: Juliette, Lukas, and Bill after his Heel–Face Turn. When they come together at the end of the story as the Mayor, and Head of IT, and Sheriff (respectively) they encompass every powerful governing force in the Silo.
  • Population Control: Of the mandatory long-term birth control variety.
  • Public Execution: Those who say the wrong things or want out of the silo are forced out into a toxic enviroment with a protective suit to clean off the cameras and sensors, but it is well known that leaving the silo is a death sentence. Many watch as the person does what is referred to as a "cleaning."
  • Revealing Cover-Up: If IT had been just been a little less zealous about murdering potential problems, their big secret would have never been revealed.
  • Revolving Door Revolution: Data that Allison was recovering suggested that the Silo used to have an upheaval roughly every twenty years,
  • Sanity Slippage: Most characters at some point, mostly due to the extreme stress they're placed under. More than one contemplate suicide.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The first novella and possibly the second.
  • Smug Snake: Bernard. He clearly has a high opinion of himself and tries very hard to control what's going on, but is also remarkably ineffective at actually managing people.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Played with in the case of Juliette and Lukas. They hit it off after a chance meeting and impromptu stargazing session, and only see each other a few more times after that. After that, they're both kind of swooning for each other but try to play it cool. They even come from rival factions (IT and Mechanical). Then plot happens, and the trope is subverted when they both discover the rewarding parts of a long-distance relationship and get to know each other intimately at a comfortable pace (as a consequence of trying to keep each other sane over the radio in frankly bat-shit situations.)
    • The novella in which they meet has each chapter preceded by lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The Order has very simple instructions for what should be done if something goes wrong with the Cleaning system.
    * In the Event of a Failed Cleaning:
    - Prepare for War.
  • There Is Another: There's more than one silo, and then more than one survivor in silo seventeen.
  • Wham Line:
    Bernard: Silo one? This is silo eighteen. We, uh... We might have a, uh... slight problem over here...
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": Operation Fifty called for a homogeneous human population...
    • The illustrated edition seems to imply that this referred to nationality rather than race.
  • Wrench Wench: Juliette, and other secondary female characters from Mechanical. Juliette is generally considered the most intense mechanic of them all, men and women.


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