Wool by Hugh Howey is a dystopian science fiction novella, originally self-published for Amazon Kindle. It started as a short story, but expanded into more parts, finally got published as an Omnibus edition, and gained a prequel (Shift).

The book’s setting is the eponymous “Silo”, a metal tube mostly underground where the remnants of mankind live, locked away from the barren and toxic outside.

The reader is immediately thrust into the action and needs to orient himself, and quick: Sheriff Holston, the top law enforcement officer of the Silo, enters his office, wishes his deputy a good morning and casually says that he would like to go outside.

Which is not only anathema in this society, but results in an automatic death sentence, without any need for an investigation. The execution is called “cleaning”; the condemned is put into a life suit (that’s not really working), gets some woolen cleaning pads and is shoved out of the Silo where he cleans the cameras’ lenses showing the inhabitants the world outside.

One of the big mysteries is why all those delinquents actually clean the cameras, before walking off to die. It’s the main riddle of the first chapter, and it’s deftly handled with a nice turn of events.

The second chapter deals with the Silo’s mayor, trying to find out why Sheriff Holston acted like he did, and unraveling the hidden power structure of the Silo that she herself hadn’t understood fully.

Those were the two chapters that I enjoyed tremendously. Short, sweet, to the point. The last three chapters have a common protagonist, a young female mechanic: Juliette.

And inexplicably, the author drops the ball right at this point. Juliette is a strong woman, but I just can’t relate to her or root for her. Other characters introduced are laughingly flat and illogical. The last three chapters are much, much longer than the first two chapters. There is an awful lot of wandering, diving and doing lots of – ultimately inconsequential – stuff, when there were actually more interesting things for the reader to explore. Do you remember when Harry Potter was camping in the woods in the Deathly Hallows? It’s worse than that. Too much “getting to point X” when the action at point X is what the reader is looking forward to.

The original Silo novella (chapter one) is a great read and chapter two is its equal. Unfortunately I cannot say many good things about the rest. Since the first two chapters are pretty short, you can’t make a mistake reading those. After that… well, I’m not telling you to stop reading, but go on at least until you’ve reached the big revelation about the Silo world somewhere in chapter three, and then stop when you yourself feel that you’re not enjoying yourself too much anymore. You’re not obligated to read till the end. No big revelations there.