The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 3, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Characters shine in Howey's 'Wool'

JOPLIN, Mo. — There's a meme picture that pops up in my social feeds every once in a while. It has an illustration of someone wearing glasses sitting on a stack of books, curled up, clearly depressed. The text around it says, "That moment when you finish a book, look around and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives ... as though you didn't just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback."

Once I got over the gag reflex caused by the bad grammar of "that moment" memes, I completely identified, agreed and clicked "like" on that sad, little person. The feeling of getting swept away by a good book is thrilling during the reading, and depressing when the story is done.

I'm in the midst of deep depression right now. I want to go back to the world of "Wool."

Written by Hugh Howey, "Wool" is the story of a civilization living in an underground silo. Plunging deep into the earth, the silo is so big that a trip down the stairs to the mechanical levels is the equivalent of a road trip to Florida -- it takes hours to climb down the stairs, and even more hours to climb back up.

There's a cardinal sin in the silo: Expressing any interest in going outside. Once someone says they want out, they are instantly found guilty and sentenced to a unique type of death: Cleaning.

The reason everyone lives in the silo is because the atmosphere above is toxic and fatal. Everyone can see the world through the eyes of four cameras positioned at the top. So when someone is sentenced to cleaning, they are charged with putting on a special suit, climbing on top of the silo and cleaning those crucial lenses that give everyone inside a view of the world.

Once they are done cleaning, they are done. The door doesn't open back up. Their suits fail, and they die.

If you're worried that I've exposed too much, don't worry. All that is discovered in the first two chapters. There are 80 more, absolutely filled with secrets, mysteries and revelations -- and man, are they incredible.

"Wool" is a sci-fi epic of tremendous scope that ranges from claustrophobic to vast. But like any book that really moves me, Howey excels at revealing the world through his characters, from Holston, the sheriff who decides that he wants to be a cleaner, to Juliette, the mechanical perfectionist who rises from the bottom level and discovers the silo's secrets.

Howey's characters completely hooked me. I truly hated the bad guys, and truly cheered when they got outsmarted by heroes.

But what really hooked me was Howey's style of writing. He adroitly creates the world in my head by painting small pictures -- only when you step back do you realize that the small pictures are part of a large mural. Each chapter became a sort of puzzle, working out exactly what happened, and who got the upper hand.

And his characters are unique. Clever, skilled and aware of their surroundings (reasonably enough, anyway), Juliette and others engage their opponents in brilliant chess games that unfold in such a satisfying way.

Howey has created a world that, despite its fatal toxicity, I would love to see in real life. Despite all he revealed, there is still so much to discover about that world.

Hence my depression. "Wool" is that good. It's only April, but I'm pretty sure I just got done reading the best book of 2013.

And there's a bonus: My depression over the end of "Wool" brightened considerably during the research for this column: I found out Howey has written a sequel.

Back to the thrill.

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