Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Wool

I picked up Wool because I'd read about the success of the author, Hugh Howey, in going completely independent, first selling the book as a serial on the Kindle store, culminating in selling the paperback rights to a traditional publisher while keeping the electronic rights to himself. The omnibus is frequently on sale at a good price, indicating that Howey understands how to market and price fiction in the digital/electronic era, unlike any of the dead-tree publishers he's competing against.

The book is an addictive read. The traditions of serial writing are clear, and Howey is a master of them: keep the cliffhangers coming quickly and in rapid succession, and never leave the reader in a state where he can get a breath in to get distracted by other pressing matters. The characters are wooden and there's next to no character development, but the world of an underground Silo following some sort of catastrophe (what exactly happened is never revealed, but we do learn that it's man-made) is the main focus, and the reveal happens at a pace that's compelling and fun to read.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

What the book isn't, however, is great science fiction. There are too many plot-holes and things that don't make sense. For instance, the great villain is the head of IT, and we read about the mysterious PACT and that power for servers make up for the biggest power draw on the generators. This makes no sense, since as far as I can tell, there's nothing for those servers to actually do. If all you need is for the servers to store data, they can do their job just as easily powered down as up, and there's no reason for them to draw power. Furthermore, Howey clearly has no idea of the kind of machinery and equipment needed to run modern equipment. Even the manufacture of a single hard drive or flash chip requires factories and a sequence of production steps far larger than the Silos described. Most science fiction novels have characters as wooden as what you'll find in Wool, but most science fiction novels have much better science.

If you can ignore these huge gaping plot-holes (big enough to drive a Google data-center through), however, the book is a fun read. It's the perfect airplane novel, and I can therefore recommend it as such. I expect to buy Howey's other books before my next long flight.

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