Monday, April 1, 2013

Not About Sheep

ISBN-10: 1476733953
ISBN-13: 9781476733951
Published: Simon & Schuster, 03/12/2013
Pages: 528
Language: English
Let's face it, self-publishing is a nightmare from which few escape to enjoy a film deal or a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list, so when an author actually manages to do it through some strange alchemy (and their book is not a modified piece of Twilight fan fiction) it's like seeing a unicorn or a shooting star. Now, when it turns out that said author wrote his science fiction novel in installments while working full-time at a bookstore the whole thing starts to seem more and more like a daydream I had about myself. So Hugh Howey, author of Wool and by all accounts a real person, has certainly  pulled off something quite extraordinary, but does that make his book worth reading?  

In a word: yes. In several more words: Howey doesn't try to reinvent science fiction like genre-busting literary stars China Mieville or Paolo Bacigalupi. In fact, his book is decidedly old-school in its plotting, characterizations, and sensibility, and its success is proof of the sturdiness of time-worn conventions used by (among many, many others) Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Walter M. Miller. Howey's ambitious, century-spanning narrative structure bears more than a passing similarity to Asimov's Foundation series and Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, both classic works well worth emulating. 

Howey writes from the perspective of numerous characters who live in a silo, a self-contained underground city that protects the last members of the human race from Earth's now-poisonous atmosphere. Howey's world-building surpasses the natural limitations proscribed by the plot with an impressive amount of detail, and his plotting is tight as a drum, doling out mysteries and revelations at just the right pace. Wool is a page-turner, but there's plenty of weighty themes and allegory to chew on if you want to dig deeper. Ultimately, Howey's book is a portrait of extreme claustrophobia, of humanity forced to live outside of its evolutionary comfort zone and the desperation that results. When the really rough stuff starts, the reader is left to deal with the uncomfortable notion that the conflict might be part of an inevitable cycle rather than an aberrant clash between good and evil.

But don't worry, this isn't a hellish read like The Road or Infinite Jest-- I kid, I kid-- it's a crackerjack story in a grand old tradition that's grand and old for a reason.

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