Wool by Hugh Howey is about a post-apocalyptic civilization that lives under the surface in a silo. They have lived in this environment so long, they don’t have any sense of what life was like outside the silo and the origins of how they came to live there, despite the fact that every few generations there has been an uprising inside. At its heart, this is a good old-fashioned “who-dun-it” detective story wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic world.
The silo itself if sectioned off by levels, it’s not just a spatial construct, but also a class and career construct. Miners, mechanicals and other blue collar workers work and live in the deepest levels, while middle class live in the mids and more white collar roles such as IT, the sheriff and the Mayor live in the upper levels. The upper level provides a glimpse of the outside world through cameras and sensors to those inside. However, over time the sensors and lens become dirty making the view less visible, so a ritual developed that both solves that problem as well as social issues. People who have committed a crime, people who rebel against the society and occasionally those who go a little crazy from the confined nature of life and want to go outside, are sent out to ‘clean.’
Those who have been sent to clean are provided with a protective suit and tools to clear the view for those inside and no one has ever not performed the act, which is strange because essentially anyone sent out will die as the suit only provides limited protection for a short time period. Therefore, those sent to clean because they have committed a crime would seem unlikely candidates to perform a duty that is for the benefit of those inside who sent them out to their doom, so why do they do it? It’s this very strange behavior that sets in motion the events of this story.
Within the silo the acting Sherif voluntarily went out to clean and the Mayor and deputy need to replace him. Their front runner choice is a woman named Juliette who doesn’t even want the job. Although she grew up in the upper levels with a father who is a doctor, a family estrangement led her to a career working in Mechanical. Juliette is happy with her job; she has a knack for figuring out how pieces fit together to make machine work and how to fix what is broken. It’s that talent, and her prior help with an investigation, that put her in the spotlight for the Sheriff role except instead of machines, she will adapt her skill to figuring out the role that different silo inhabitants played in some recent tragedies. The more she examines how the silo works as a whole, the more disturbing her investigations become as she slowly uncovers some of the truths about the origins of their world.
The end of the book includes a conversation with the author Hugh Howey that is worth reading as it explains some elements of his life prior to turning to writing that help the reader understand where the idea for this book came from and how he was able to provide readers with a sense of a very enclosed environment. The one thing it didn’t reveal is where the title of the book came from, there may have been a reference within the book that I missed…if so, it would be great if someone reading this blog can explain the connection.