Hugh Howey’s Wool stories, now collected into The Wool Omnibus, is the self-publishing success story that fuels the dreams of thousands of indie writers. The first book–a novella–came from nowhere, the work of an unknown book store employee, to rise to the top of the popularity charts at Amazon.com. Fans demanded more. Howey complied.
Soon Howey had enough Wool to weave into a complete novel-length adventure. While he was still crafting his masterpiece, Howey was offered (and accepted) a film option from Ridley Scott’s production company. He obtained a fiercely-negotiated print-only deal with Penguin Random House.
Wool is a good book, well written, exciting. Howey is especially adept at creating three dimensional characters that leap off the page and into our hearts. But other science fiction books feature good characters in exciting stories. What is there about Wool that so resonates with our collective consciousness?
Wool tells the story of survivors of a manmade holocaust that has left the surface of the world uninhabitable, toxic… deadly. Survivors live in 134-story silos where even speaking of going outside is a crime punishable by death. The silo dwellers’ only view of the outside world comes from monitor screens fed by lenses that require periodic cleaning. When someone breaks, when even certain death becomes preferable to spending another day in the silo, they scream for release. Their wish is granted: They are sent outside to clean the lenses. It’s a sentence of death, as no amount of protective clothing can long withstand the assault of Earth’s corrosive atmosphere.
Once free, however briefly, though condemned to death, the exiles faithfully carry out their duty. They don’t leave the society that has condemned them with a middle-finger salute and march defiantly over the horizon. They pull out their scrap of wool and clean the lenses for others.
I doubt very strongly that Hugh Howey consciously set out to write an analogy of the internet-connected society of today, but still, it’s a good one. People who once mingled physically now hunker in their self-constructed silos and perceive the world through screens. They in turn are perceived through the screens of others, screens that often seem clouded with accumulated ages’ of dirt and grit that we long to wipe clean. Maybe this incredibly pertinent metaphor is why Wool connects with audiences while stories of time travelers and spacefarers languish in comparison.
Wool is a poignant reminder that we do not as yet need to exist in silos, that the only silos imprisoning us are of our own devising.