Self-publishing still gets a bad rap. Sometimes it’s justified: with a lower barrier to entry, platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing allow anyone to publish anything, even if it’s a stream-of-consciousness first draft riddled with typos. But there are plenty of brilliant, professional “indie” authors out there. And Hugh Howey is one of them.
Wool: Omnibus Edition is a collection of his first five novellas in the Wool series. The stories are set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the earth’s air has become toxic and the last survivors are forced to live underground in an immense silo with over 130 levels. How the world came to ruin is lost to history. But people know that talking about going outside is punished by being forced to go outside: troublemakers are sentenced to use wool pads to clean the lenses of the silo’s exterior cameras before succumbing to the noxious atmosphere.
There’s as much mystery as science fiction in the first few novellas. Aside from the big question—what caused the apocalypse?—Howey builds his world piece by piece in an investigative format that takes the reader along on a hunt for the truth. Why do people condemned to die still fulfill the ritual of cleaning the cameras? What caused the dimly remembered uprisings in the silo? Who’s keeping all these secrets? Are they right to do so? And why isn’t there a freaking elevator? There are murders to solve too, and while the action is slow-paced at first, Howey turns out to be as ruthless with his characters as George R. R. Martin.
All this—plus heaps of strong writing—would be enough to make me like Wool on its own. But the Omnibus Edition also features beautiful illustrations, many of which are animated. (Even the cover on Amazon has motion to it.) At first, I found the kinetic bits distracting, but I came to enjoy them as the stories developed.
None of this is to say Wool is perfect. I thought the third novella spent too much time rehashing a mystery that had already been solved in the first. And now and then Howey’s descriptions get a touch granular for my tastes. But I’ve never read a flawless “traditionally” published book either, and Wool is better than most.
Because good writing is good writing, no matter who puts it out.