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“Wool Omnibus”

by Hugh Howey

Wool Omnibus is a haunting saga of people living out their entire lives in an underground structure called a silo, with no knowledge of life beyond their cloistered existence. The people live this way as a result of some undefined apocalypse, an event which poisoned the atmosphere so that life outside the silo is impossible.

Originally written as a series of short stories revolving around this central theme, the Omnibus Edition brings the first five of them together under one book cover. Combined, the stories span over 500 pages. This isn’t a quick read, but Hugh Howey writes well enough that it’s neither bothersome nor boring to get through it.

His writing style is descriptive enough that scenes come alive in the imagination. From everyday things like the imperfections of welds in a handrail, to extraordinary things like bubbles of air that float up through standing water to collect beneath a metal stair. Tastes and smells and sounds are sometimes real enough to stay with you after you’ve put the book down.

His development of the characters is deep, but gradual enough that it doesn’t bog down the story line. Backstory on a person is presented slowly. As in real life, the reader gets to know a character over time. By the end of the book, the main characters are fully understood, and Howey does an admirable job of letting a reader make up their own mind as to what is “good” and “bad” in a person.

His highest accomplishment, I think, is his depiction of the stratified organization of life in this confined existence, the clear lines that separate the lower levels from those considered more elite in society. He points out the difficulty in governing these varied peoples, the burden of protecting them from the poisoned atmosphere outside, and manages to do so without sounding preachy and political.

I’m not a real Science Fiction fan, but it’s easy to see how Wool has become a favorite of those that are. It’s the kind of tale that makes a person think… about the direction that our own society is headed, how our own elected officials view themselves as the ruling class with the general unwashed populace as their subjects.

Moreover, this is a self-published work that consistently rates as a top seller. As such, it is a ray of hope for any aspiring novelist entering the crazily crowded world of self-publishing, an inspiration to push on to do their best work.

Well done, Mr. Howey. Well done.