Living on the surface has become life-threatening, and as a result humanity has retreated to underground. We open WOOL with Sheriff Holston, the law for the silo and the underground city that lives there.
But the silo’s population is strictly controlled. Couples aren’t allowed to even try to have a child without permission unless they win a lottery placement that gives them a chance at a year of trying. They only have a chance at this lottery when another inhabitant dies of old age, accident–or by cleaning.
“Cleaning” forces rule-breakers to the outside, where they are supplied with a suit that keeps them alive long enough to clean the sensors and cameras that allow the silo to see outside. Cleaning is a death by execution, but with the chance to help the silo before they die. Imagine being on the inside of the silo as you watch the condemned man or woman exit the exterior doors in their safety suit, and the cameras slowly become clearer as the condemned scrubs the film from the lenses. Then you can see the wasteland outside, the dirt and crumbling buildings. Once finished, the condemned walk away, but never far enough to make it up the hill to see what’s beyond–instead dying very likely from the radioactive fallout from some long-forgotten war.
What a horrifying thought. To never be outside, except for those final few minutes of life where you die of radiation poisoning, instead living out your life deep in the earth. What would life be like for humanity to live this way? What kinds of rules would exist to keep society going? How would it all work?
The silo is a city based on the floor you live on: the mayor and sheriff work on the main floor, just under the surface. Below are living quarters and computer IT (upper level). Below yet are the hydroponic and soil-based farm levels (mid-level). Deeper still is mechanical (down deep or lower levels) which pumps the water, oil, and energy from the earth to power the silo and its inhabitants so they can have power to light their lives. As one would imagine, over a hundred levels of community levels would create a stratified living. If the only way you could “travel” involved going up and down stairs, it would take a few days to travel from the top to the bottom–and vice versa. You’d spend most of your life traveling through a few floors, depending on where you worked and lived. How would someone on another floor think of you and your level’s community?
What kind of people live in a place like this? We start the story with Sherriff Holston, and following Holston and Mayor Jahns for a few chapters, we finally meet Jules, a talented mechanic who takes her job keeping the silo running very seriously. She’s convinced to quit her job and move to the upper levels. But as the kind of person who spent her life practicing preventative maintenance, she sees that the silo society is not the well-oiled machine it needs to be to survive. She finds out that, in fact, there is an imminent failure ahead unless she can make the repairs. But she’s more used to machines than people, and some people are less inclined to move than machinery.
WOOL by Hugh Howey has everything a post-apocalptic book ought to: humanity struggling to survive, plucky heroes, and revelations that change the future.
Overall, WOOL moves at a great pace (although there are some slow spots in the middle). I was sucked in quickly and stayed up late reading the last quarter of the book it was so full of tension–I just had to know what was going to happen. But while the pace is steady, it takes time for this story to unfold–and it does by degrees, and we discover the reality of their situation as the characters do. I opened this book not knowing where it would lead me. Jules is our heroine (with a few chapters by other characters) who’s strong-willed and not necessarily diplomatic, but one can’t help but appreciate her viewpoint. Sure Jules and her friends get stuck in an impossible situation, but she bulldozes her way forward to find a solution.
I can’t tell you more because then it would spoil the story for you and you definitely want to discover this story for yourself.
I’m looking forward to book 2.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: A few dozen of the harsher stuff
- Violence: Shooting, fighting, bombs, dead bodies; it gets brutal but not gory
- Sex: Referenced and a vague scene