Hugh Howey‘s Wool has been knocking around for a few years, as shorter novels and in omnibus form. It’s as accomplished and affecting a story as any on my post-apocalyptic novels list. As a self-published novel it’s a marvel of independent success from a highly respectable author. Both are stories worth telling, so for this novel I’m not just going to talk about how good the book is – I also want to talk about what the book represents for the self-published author.
So, the novel itself. Wool is about a group of people living in an underground silo, where the outside world is dangerous and their traditions (such as cleaning the outside sensors) have taken on haunting, almost religious grandeur. It’s a story about the people who start to unravel the truth about the silos, and about the people determined to stop the truth coming out. A riveting read, full of action, tension and drama, alive with instantly memorable characters.
The early parts create a devastatingly claustrophobic atmosphere, with the characters bleakly isolated. Rarer for a post-apocalyptic story, the survivors live in a large and established community, but, a testament to the well-realised narrative, there’s a greater sense of overhwelming loneliness and hopelessness here than in any lone survivor tale. Knowing these characters are surrounded by others but still so desperately adrift makes for some brilliantly uncomfortable reading. And the way the story evolves only fills you with more of that feeling. Although to discuss that in any detail would require some severe spoilers – the dramatic twists early on making it all too difficult to write about.
The omnibus edition of the novel concerns the self-contained Silo 18, ultimately following Jules’ tales, but it’s actually a sequence of shorter stories that follow a few different themes, with diverse lead characters. The story was originally written separately, novellas produced to meet high demand for the early work, and it’s admirable to see how Howey wove this epic tale out of small beginnings. What you find in the omnibus is more than a single novel, it’s a feat of meeting the demand of a wanting public. Something inspired by the social nature of the internet and the possibilities now available for self-published authors. And it’s a well-accomplished feat, showing the author was more than up to the task (and still is, as he continues to release sequels).
See, the first parts of Wool were originally self-published by Howey, and were greeted by excellent reviews on Amazon. From there, the novel eventually became a best-seller, and it’s even been optioned as a movie. It’s a history Howey recently recounted himself, in a few fascinatingly articles – this one detailing his publishing deal and this one his movie deal. Well worth perusing, but to summarise briefly – here’s a man who turned down one million dollars so he could continue to produce novels on his own terms, for an already loyal audience. Eventually he got a publishing deal that reflected that. It’s a story that shows how much power the popular author is acquiring, and how much influence readers now have over what gets produced.
Howey was confident that his novel would bring in a steady income. On its own it might not bring the riches of a publishing deal, but it was enough to live on, and preserving his integrity was more important than getting rich. The result is a novel written between him and his readers without the interference of big business. It’s great that it’s now being properly published by a large publishing house, but Howey’s confidence to continue without them, if need be, shows how self-published authors can do it on their own.
Wool is an excellent story in its own right, you’d find it enjoyable without knowing anything about its background. But it’s especially important for me, knowing that it exists in its current form simply because the reading public liked the idea enough to encourage the author to keep at it. And I’m glad it did work that way, because I only heard of it myself due to people discussing it on social media. Join the future of publishing and get your copy here.