“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death”
The very first sentence of Wool by Hugh Howey struck me as something unusual, reminiscent of 1984, with clock striking thirteen. Usually people jump down to their death, but here the main character Holston was climbing to his death.
The impending doom intrigued me and before I could think twice, I found myself lost in the eBook version of Wool written by Hugh Howey.
The eBook was in fact sitting in my TBR for a long time and the simple cover page and uninteresting title ensured that I never opened it even once.
But, after reading Blood Red Sari, I found it difficult to sit still and picked up Wool at random, a short novella of just 49 pages. And, I must say that the story is one of the best I have read in a very long time.
The novella is set in future, when earth is no longer habitable and people are forced to live in claustrophobic Silos, literally concrete cylinders buried deep under the earth, with only lenses providing a hazy view of surroundings.
As the outside environment was fatally toxic, none of the citizens were allowed to go out of the city. In fact, if a person committed a crime, the worst punishment was that he would be sent out of the Silo to die, ironically called Cleaning.
As I read on, I realized that the punishment was called Cleaning, as once being sent outside, the convict was expected to clean the lenses with a wool so that the Silo can enjoy a clear view of the outside. In fact, every cleaning was followed by a festival like atmosphere on the inside, where people thronged to the top area to enjoy the clear grim view of the dead man.
This contradiction surprised me the most. Here was a perfect example of extreme selfishness and insensitivity to your fellow beings. Silo residents expected a man, whom they have given a death sentence to clean the lenses for their enjoyment. And, even stranger was the fact that in the entire known history of Silo, no one has ever denied to do the expected job, before being rotten to slow death and decay!
Little did I know that this contradiction was just a tip of the iceberg. Hugh Howey has created an upside down world in Wool, where freedom means death, where people aspire to live their whole lives securely confined in the caged walls of a concrete cylinder, where a lottery is to be won to produce a child, where elephants and butterflies are unknown creatures of long forgotten fantasy and where pilgrimage means a visit to the top floor after cleaning to enjoy a clear view of the outside. In short, strange rules are imposed in this confined world and all the social privileges we take for granted, are denied. And, still people called it their home and lived contented lives.
But, humans are nothing if not perpetual dreamers. Despite being fully aware of the outside dangers, every few years someone became desperate enough to taste free air, creating tension and uprising.
The story begins with this exact proposition, an express desire by Sheriff Holston to clean voluntarily, has disrupted the peaceful Silo. Ironically, Holston, the man whose very job is to crush protests from people who want to go out, has now succumbed to the temptation of tasting outside air.
Why is Holston bringing about his own death? Would he be really punished with cleaning, and would he actually clean the lenses before dying a painful death is the main focal point of this short novel, and within the span of just 49 pages, I have become a die hard fan of Hugh Howey. His simple narration and complex story presented a lovely contrast and I enjoyed my one hour read immensely.
The Wool made me philosophical and I wondered whether Silo is really any different from our usual world. Aren’t we all curious to know what lies beyond our boundaries, our limitations. Aren’t all explorers, wanderers and even researchers frequently playing with danger, leaving behind safe zones, in a zeal to explore the unknown.
And, exactly this kind of philosophy which looked so similar to our daily existence and yet ironically takes placed place in an inverted world of small proportions, impressed me so much that I ended up buying the full paperback version of Wool Omnibus, 532 pages long and five parts.
Essentially what began as a short eBook experiment for Hugh Howey and a time pass for me, has now been transformed into a full fledged novel, exploring the strange lives of Silo residents eerily familiar yet totally strange.
My next Review would cover the entire novel in a more extensive way. Till then, keep Reading and enjoy!