Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review # 83: Shift by Hugh Howey

The last of Howey’s brilliant three-part trilogy delivers a fitting end to this metaphorical treatise on the state of our world, and what it will take to redeem it from its headlong rush into folly. The “Silo Saga,” as the trilogy has unofficially come to be called, tells the story of the remnants of mankind hundreds of years into the future, now living in vast underground silos, which are slowly but surely facing their end days.

The two main characters driving the action of this final third are Juliette, first introduced in Wool and then the heroine of Dust, and Donald, the engineer of the silos who has awakened (literally and figuratively) to the original insidious design behind them.  To sum up the action thus far: Juliette is a strong-willed young woman from the mechanical depths of Silo 18, who asked too many questions, challenged too many rigid conventions, and ended up condemned to death by being thrust outside her silo into a toxic environment to die. However, a suit secretly modified by her supporters enabled her to make her way to what turns out to be a dead Silo 17, apparently devoid of humanity and partially flooded. When she discovers a handful of survivors living in its depths, she vows to return to her own home, solve the mystery behind the silos, and enlighten her people who in her absence have suffered a bloody insurrection. Her return to Silo 18 is met with suspicion and distrust by many who have been indoctrinated for life to believe that they are all there is of the surviving world, and she faces an uphill battle to bring the survivors of Silo 17 back into society while breaking the isolation of Silo 18.

Juliette’s lover Lucas, meanwhile, has managed to get into clandestine radio contact with Donald over in Silo One, and together they begin to unravel the terrifying conspiracy behind the Silo design. Donald has just been awakened from hundreds of years of cryogenically-induced sleep and is in a race against time –and against his nemesis Senator Thurman–to save the many thousands living in isolated Silos from the endgame that was plotted by Thurman back in the beginning.

Okay, all that said, Shift has a very different feel than either Wool or Dust.  The reader is no longer in the dark as to who and what is going on, the plot is dense and more convoluted, with more overtones of a cinematic thriller.  It is truly edge-of-your-seat excitement, and the end is as hopeful as you can get for a dystopic novel. It did leave me with a bunch of questions that I felt Howey left unanswered, and while it is true that an author is not obliged to wrap up all loose threads, in this case I would have appreciated it. Still, a great and highly recommended read.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #70: Wool by Hugh Howey

I had a love affair with sci-fi as a teenager, and then inexplicably dropped it about 45 years ago when I got into politics, so I must confess that this is my first foray into the (much-evolved) genre in a very long time. I’m glad I started with Wool, which captured me early on with its evocative descriptions of an entire civilization living many stories below the surface of the earth in a post-apocalyptic world. Howey had to map out the excruciatingly detailed operations of this underground society, from power generation to communication, from law enforcement to food and services, from health care to information technology, and I don’t know which I found more awe-inspiring: the scientifically-detailed portrayal of the mechanisms which kept humanity alive for hundreds of years, or the emotionally-powerful descriptions of the pressure-cooker existence of humanity subsisting under rigidly-structured guidelines imposed from above … literally.

Wool starts his story with what looks like a deliberate suicide by the sheriff of our “Silo,” or underground society. He wants “out,” a release into the fatally toxic environment of the outer world usually reserved for violators of the strict rules he himself has been enforcing for decades. It seems his wife, a historian, had been secretly piecing together a long-buried history of the Silo and the past, which got her a death sentence in the form of a trip to the outside three years’ previously. When the sheriff decides to follow her, it’s not clear whether he is succumbing to his long-held grief, or seeking a truth he has only just glimpsed. The search for a new sheriff turns up our heroine Juliette, a tough young woman who works in the mechanical department in the very depths of the Silo and is beloved for her smarts, her competence, and her takes-no-shit-from-anyone stance. A few suspicious deaths occur before she can take office, and she dedicates her first days on the job to unraveling the first threads of a conspiracy of unimaginable breadth. All too soon she crosses paths with the enemy, and is quickly scheduled for a trip outside.

This is when things start to get interesting, and Howey takes us on a terrifying—and quite lengthy– journey across unimaginable voids, which open into new worlds of imagination and warnings of what is to come. Wool (which title I never figured out, by the way) is the first of a trilogy Howey is planning, and while I don’t want to give out any spoilers, I think it useful to quote Howey himself, who told me that his entire series “is a metaphor for the silliness of us living in silos (countries) apart from one another, warring with one another, when we should be pooling our resources and looking to the stars.” A beautiful sentiment that I fully share and, if Wool is any indication, the trilogy promises to be a powerful offering for those of us with the patience and imagination to stick with it.