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Found 4 results

  1. Sand

    So this is where Hugh Howey and I will part company. I bought Sand when it was released, buoyed by the first two novels in the Wool series (Wool and Shift). I had not yet been disappointed by the final Wool novel (Dust). So, I have had this sitting on my Kindle for a while, not being quite sure what to expect. And it started off well. The creation of a dystopian world, a future Colorado, swamped by sand. People diving through the sand in suits that can channel the sand around the diver, creating solid sand or liquefying it as needed. Treasure hunters, diving for lost cities, bringing up artefacts from the 21st century – that the reader will view as mundane but to the characters represent a priceless link with a lost civilisation. But the characterisation is cardboard, the situation strains credulity and the plot slows to almost stationary at times. Seriously, where did the sand come from? Why did people not just move away when the sand came? Why do people insist on trying to live in cities built on sand rather than live in tents like present day desert dwellers? There are multiple strands of story but mostly they just seem to involve people chasing after each other through the desert. There’s no rhyme or reason to the endless chasing. Ultimately, that means you lose any incentive to barrack for the good guys; you don’t care whether they get caught by the bad guys; you just wish it would happen slightly more quickly. Running through sand is very, very s l o w. Until we get to the end, and that is quite quick. Suddenly there are many people, all coming together at once, seismic change and general chaos. The dust never quite settles and it’s not clear what the ending actually means. Had this been Wool, I would now have expected a sequel setting out the background to the sand, and a third book charting the escape from the sand. However, Hugh Howey tells us that this is a standalone novel with no plans for sequels. Given how dull this one is, that’s probably a good thing. **000
  2. Wool was surprisingly inventive and engaging. Shift gave an interesting backstory. And realistically, given where Wool left off, there was only one direction the trilogy could go. And it goes there. Dust is slow. The depth of characterisation seems to have disappeared - we have to take it on faith (or memory of Wool) that Juliette has a personality and that we care about her. But, alas, she seems to have become a generic heroine on a mission - much activity, mostly illogical and counterproductive - but very little reason to care about it. We meet Solo, Lukas, Donald and Charlotte from Wool and/or Shift and Hugh Howey helpfully reminds us of those story lines. But this also reminds us that Dust is a pale shadow of the previous novels, entirely driven by the breathless (bad) plot. Characters who had been integral to the story are treated as disposable; and new characters are created for the sole purpose of being cannon-fodder. The result just feels chaotic. The novel does tie up loose ends. But these were largely knots that had been implied by the two previous novels. Somehow putting it down in black and white diminishes the impact. It's always a risk to start out with a self-contained world and then set it in a wider context, and in Dust, the wider context really causes some of the basic premises to crumble. For example, the silo with endless stairs and no lift is enigmatic and intriguing. But giving a logical explanation for it just makes it seem less plausible. Although I liked Shift, I can't help feeling that it created a need for a third novel that has undermined the series. With hindsight, it might have been better to leave things with Wool. **000
  3. Shift is a prequel - don't read it unless you have already read Wool. Shift sets the scene that we discover in Wool. We find out why people are living in silos, we find out a little bit about how the silos operate and what the game plan might be. And most of all, we discover a lift. That's right, after all the stairs in Wool, we find a perfectly functional lift allowing easy access between floors. In Solo 1. Unlike the early, claustrophobic scenes in Wool, we find narrative switching between silos; we find backstories and time shifts. We find an outside world, albeit one in far history. Some of the key questions - dare one say problems - raised by readers of Wool are addressed in this prequel. But, as prequels often can, Shift tends towards slaying some of the heros of the original work. We see Juliette and Jimmy playing out pre-determined roles; their motives seem somehow less pure and idealistic. They are tainted. The action in Shift switches between three storylines - a newly elected Congressman (Donald) who finds himself in Silo 1; a man called Mission who starts to think independently in Silo 18; and Jimmy in Silo 17 whom we know from Wool. Of these stories, Donald and Jimmy work well. Mission feels like filler; he has no personality and the action around him feels contrived. This is a pity; the opening scenes in Silo 18 in Wool (the Holston storyline) were powerful and deserved a better backstory. Nevertheless, Shift is well written and mostly pretty taut. It may be long but it holds the reader's interest and the pages keep turning. As prequels sometimes do, Shift lacks a decent ending. The ending is simply the original book - which might have been sufficient on its own without beginning or end, but the creation of a beginning necessitates the creation of an end. Fortunately that - in the form of Dust - has recently been released... ****0
  4. Sci-fi gets a bad reputation - often deservedly so. But if it were all as good as Wool, it might get taken more seriously. That Wool is so good is all the more surprising, given that it was self-published incrementally. Usually the lack of a professional editor and a gate-keeping publisher will show. But Wool has a pretty tight plot, is well written and mercifully well proof-read. In it, Hugh Howey has created a credible, functioning dystopia that appears to operate on internally consistent rules. Specifically, the underground silo with its 148 levels, the top and the bottom being days' trudge apart up and down the spiral staircase. The first section, Holston, was first published as a stand alone short story. It starts out feeling very much like Logan's Run. By the end, though, it is clearly something different that acts as a springboard for the rest of the novel - which turns out to be long and complex. The characters all have pasts; there was a world before the novel began and there is a feeling that there is likely to be a world after it ends. Yet despite this, the characters feel thin. In a plot driven novel, they exist really as ciphers to drive the plot. So we find that one character is the heroine; one is the reluctant hero; another is the prince of darkness; plenty are loyal foot soldiers. However, the strength of the story is enough to carry the novel. It would be unfair to give details as this would spoil the suspense, but it is a story that has parallels with modern day life; the confinement of routine and employment; the feeling that there must be some greater purpose; and the internal dilemma of whether to risk ambition or settle for the comfort and security of what you know. The ending does feel rather rushed and there are loose ends left - obviously with a view to a sequel. There is also enough history unresolved to justify a prequel. One of the oft cited complaints about sci-fi is the logorrhea and the seemingly endless stream of sequels. Wool is tight enough to work as a stand alone but with three doorsteps already in the series, one imagines that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. There are some imponderables. When people mine, where does the waste go? Why are there no lifts or pulleys? How is there no folk story about life before the silo? These were not major issues, and perhaps they are addressed in the prequel or sequel, but they do indicate the difficulty of creating a new world. Overall, Wool may not be the most original story, but it is carried off with enough panache to place it firmly in above-average territory in the world of fiction - and in the silo of sci-fi it is probably in one of the topmost levels. ****0