WOOL by Hugh Howey: That’s no spaceship… it’s a silo!

I’m always on the hunt for a good science fiction novel. Like many other readers of the genre, I’ve run into my share of books set on multi-generational space ships traveling to distant stars. Some of these books are great, and some not so great. The problem, I think, is in creating a believable world within the boundaries of the ship while spinning the tale for the reader. Some authors get lost in the technical details of creating an independent, self-sustaining world and social culture within the ship and forget that they meant to tell us a story. Others remember the story but it is set in such a flimsy framework that it just doesn’t work. Every once in a while, however, I come across a book that strikes the right balance and is just great.

The novel Wool

Hello, Wool by Hugh Howey! This book isn’t set in a spaceship traveling to a distant star, but in a silo with 144 levels set deep into the earth. The silo is closed off and completely self-contained, and the few thousand residents have lived within it for hundreds of years. Everything on the surface of the planet is now dead, and the only chance for the survival of our species is to stay within the closed ecosystem of the silo until the earth recovers. Instead of traveling to a distant location, the residents of the silo are time travelers to a distant future and the journey began a long, long time ago.

Here’s the deal: nothing is what it seems. It isn’t clear how the earth was destroyed, and the residents have no notion of any other world other than the one that they live in; their history was lost when computer servers were wiped during a past rebellion. There is a rigid social structure within the silo, and reproduction is carefully controlled by lottery while dead citizens are “recycled” in the gardens that grow food and produce oxygen. The lowest levels of the silo contain the critical power plant, the mines and the oil production facilities. The top levels contain the workers of the more “white collar” occupations. Gluing it all together are the major administrators: the mayor, the sheriff, and the head of the IT department. It is essential that the status quo is maintained. Dissension and rebellion are ruthlessly repressed, and it is absolutely forbidden to express a desire to go outside; to do so is a death sentence.

Mr. Howey has created a fantastic immersive world within the silo; it is believable and hangs together extremely well. (It is so real that fans have been sending him schematics of the silo…) The story is also great; it begins with the death of the sheriff and a subsequent power struggle. As events unfold it quickly becomes apparent that the world in the silo isn’t what it should be; lies are being told, there are mysteries within mysteries, and the hunt for the truth is very dangerous. There are deaths, rebellions, a heavily guarded IT department, and so many secrets. Our girl, the newly recruited sheriff Juliette Nichols, is determined to get to the bottom of things. The trouble is, the truth may be even more dangerous than the lies.

I loved this book! I was dragged in by the suspense and driven to understand what was going on. The characters are complex and well constructed; their stories were so real to me. I bought the next two books in the Silo series, Shift and Dust, and just kept reading. These books  bring new characters into the story, and as the pages went by I started to understand how everything hung together. The resolution of the story and the integration of all the independent characters was a little weak at the end, but altogether the three books were great and I am on the hunt for another book by this author. Gosh, I hope they make a movie of this!

If you are a science fiction fan that doesn’t necessarily need a space ship, this book series is for you.


The Art of Serendipitous Phenomenology

When I used to work in a medical research lab one of my co-workers described what we did as mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology.  I think that he meant that we (hoped to be) alert, observant, curious and reflective about events around us. Big discoveries can occur from chance observations if one pays attention; one of the famous ones is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Another of my coworkers discovered an important immune system inhibitor (which led to a patent and eventually a drug. How cool is that?) Of course, there aren’t any big scientific discoveries in my life right now, but I have had a run of fun occurrences lately. It’s been making me think about serendipity, and that perhaps one of the secrets of finding joy in every day living is in mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology.

So, here is my run of fun;

Starbuck's Card
I went into a strange Starbucks Sunday on an impulse while picking up Chinese takeout. I needed a new Starbuck’s card as I had just lost mine. Look at what I found!! The hard-to-read text on the left says, “Year of the Sheep”.
I was in a slump this weekend because I had just finished a good book. I forced myself to start reading the next book on my list, and it’s a science fiction with the title of WOOL!!  It’s a really good book, too. How much fun is that?
Serenity 20 sock yarn by Zen Yarn Garden. The colorway is Jewel.

I was already contemplating serendipity when I arrived at my favorite local yarn store yesterday. I had a hazy notion that I wanted to get a cashmere blend yarn that would look nice with grey to make another Hitchhiker (by Martina Behm). Going through the sock yarns with a friend a skein suddenly fell out of its cubby and landed on the floor at my feet. “Well, there’s your yarn”, said my friend. There it was indeed! This yarn is 20% cashmere. The color is perfect for me and my new grey sweater. After going through all the yarn we could not find one that was a better fit.

Hey, who am I to argue with the universe? This yarn is clearly destined to  become a Hitchhiker. The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Obviously I needed to buy this yarn.

See what I did there? Even though this yarn was expensive I was able to absolutely justify buying it with my smoking post-Christmas credit card.

And that is the Art of Serendipitous Phenomenology, my friends.