Writer's View: Wool by Hugh Howey


From Goodreads: They live beneath the earth in a prison of their own making. There is a view of the outside world, a spoiled and rotten world, their forefathers left behind. But this view fades over time, ruined by the toxic airs that kill any who brave them.

So they leave it to the criminals, those who break the rules, and who are sent to cleaning. Why do they do it, these people condemned to death? Sheriff Holston has always wondered. Now he is about to find out.

The Writer's View:

First I have to thank my buddy Cathy at Abnormally Paranormal for recommending this book. As soon as I read her review, I knew I needed to read this short story. I was not disappointed.

This is one of the best short stories I have ever read. I fully expect to see this in college and high school anthologies at some point in the next decade. If this wasn't self-published, I would have expected this to win a Hugo or Nebula. How cool would it be for a self-published titles to win one of those? This story is nothing short of brilliant.

But maybe even better than winning a Hugo and Nebula is having your short story optioned for a movie by Ridley Scott! Now THAT is seriously cool. Read the article here. It thrills me to see this piece of work getting much-deserved attention.

All that being said, the story is dark and depressing. I'm glad it was short. I'm not sure I could have read an entire novel that was so dark. But I think this speaks volumes to the author's skill, to effect me so profoundly with such a short piece.

POV within a silo - literally and figuratively

This is a dystopia set in the far future, on a planet destroyed by humanity. For generations, the few remaining humans have lived in great underground concrete silos. The character exists, physically and emotionally, within one of these concrete silos.

I was really blown away by the way Howey constantly incorporates language and metaphors that bring the reader back to the silo. There is no language or any other sort of reference that would belong to a man born outside the silo.

Check out these quotes below. The italics are mine.

"Looking at his hands, at the black carbon undersuit he wore against his skin, Holston pictured it all dissolving off his body, sloughing away like flakes of dried grease from a generator's pipe while the blood burst from his pores and pooling up in his lifeless suit."

"And even as Holston's mind spun with the horror of the past half hour, in the back of his sheriff brain, where he was always alert for the riding tensions in the silo, that part of him was dimly aware of the shock and rumors trembling through the walls of concrete and rebar."

I just LOVE these sentences. It would have been so easy to come up with the sloughing metaphor that's common and cliche, but Howey tied it back to the silo. Specifically, to the generators, which the silos rely on for power.

It also would have been easy to describe shock and rumors trembling "through the air," or something cliche like that, but Howey took it one step further and again tied it back to a silo reference. Seriously, how incredible is this? I want to do this with my books! Everything about the character is tied to the existence of this silo.

Don't even get me started on the opening chapter, where Holston compares the passage of time and generations to the wear and tear suffered by the central staircase in the silo. It's freakin' beautiful. I had to immediately re-read it. Gah, this author is brilliant.

I was thinking about how to apply what I've learned to my own writing, and it occurred to me that the silo metaphor is PERFECT. All characters need to exist within their own silos. As writers, it's our job to figure out who they are and what exists in their individual silos. Then we need to constantly connect our readers to each character's special silo.

If you haven't read this, I highly recommend. It's only 99 cents! It's a quick, brilliant read.