Book Review: DUST


Dust is the final installment in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga. In Dust the plot threads introduced in the Wool books and the backstory exposited in the Shift books come to their inevitable head.

I enjoyed Dust—I enjoyed it more than the Shift books but not as much as the Wool books. But after Donald’s three shifts, I was ready to return to where Wool 5 left off: Juliette, the renegade cleaner, has returned to her silo determined to break the truth about her world to her friends and neighbors. Juliette, probably the most intricately drawn character in the the Silo Saga, stays true to form. As a reader, I trusted her to explore, to push boundaries, and to eventually lead her people out of her silo, and she fulfills that promise. Howey, characteristically, makes it a Pyrrhic victory once again.

Dust ties together Juliette’s plotline and Donald’s plotline, which was prefectly fine but not all that interesting to me. The banality of knowing where the silos come from has consistently failed to generate my interest when compared to the cloistered, claustrophobic lives of the other silos’ inhabitants. The books work best for me when we see the ways in which an entire life in a silo shapes people’s minds: the way the scope of the world narrows and how shocking and incomprehensible it is to Juliette and others when they realize there is so much more world than they ever thought possible. Donald and the others in Silo 1 feel patronizing and unnecessary. Donald’s storyline is there mostly to push exposition along and to ratchet up the stakes, but honestly I think that the stakes would have felt higher if he had stayed a disembodied voice on the illicit radio.

The exposition he delivers never quite pays off. Dust falls prey to the same thing that kills so many spec fic series: it’s got a myopia about the nuts and bolts that obscures the narrative. Ultimately, many of the revelations—what the argon in the airlocks really is, the state of the earth just beyond the hills, Thurman’s Pact—left me unsatisfied. Juliette’s struggles really sing, and her strengths and weaknesses as a leader drive the narrative beautifully, but Dust stumbles over its own clever trappings too often for it to fulfill the promise of the first five Wool books. Not every mystery needed to be explained, and Dust suffered in its insistence in spelling everything out for us instead of focusing on the heart of the narrative.


Book Review: SHIFT (Omnibus)


I was a couple years late to the Wool party, and the upside is that I didn’t have to wait to read the next installments in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga. I finished the Wool books in bed and immediately bought the Shift omnibus on my kindle.

The Shift omnibus includes books 6, 7 and 8 of the Silo Saga: First Shift, Second Shift and Third Shift respectively. The Shift books functions as a series of nested prequels to the Wool books. Like the last three books in the Wool series, each of the Shift is structured around parallel or related narratives. Where the Wool books organized themselves according to location—Silo 17 or Silo 18—the narrative threads of the Shift books are separate by both time and space.

The titles of the books refer to the shifts of a man working in Silo 1, which controls and monitors the other forty nine silos. The people of Silo 1 were cryogenically frozen. Most are scheduled to be thawed back to life periodically for shifts six months long apiece. The Shift books track the histories of Silos 17 and 18 through the watchful eyes of one of Silo 1’s shift workers.

The Shift books have many of the strengths of the Wool—specifically the Howey’s sparse writing and knack for pacing. That said, without the dazzling newness of the worldbuilding Howey’s weak spots are weaker here than they were in Wool. The characterization tends to be thin throughout. The interpersonal complications outlined in Silo 1 have none of the heft or sharpness of life in the other silos, and the character whose shifts we follow is not fully realized enough to carry the books. The other figures in Silo 1 are sketched really just in relation to him, which leaves them one-note and flat. Given where Wool left us, Shift makes the mistake of squandering all that momentum instead of harnessing it.