& Reviews: Shift by High Howey

Shift by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books. January 2013

Shift by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books. January 2013

The Book Itself: This version of this series covers does a great job of keeping it simple and graphic while also staying true to the story. Wool had an ashy, molten look, probably hearkening to the flames that cleanse the airlock leading to the outside world. In this one, workers are frozen and woken up in shifts over the course of hundreds of years. The cracked, icy feel of the cover reflects that nicely.

My Review: In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened. This is the second volume in the New York Times best-selling Wool series

I read Wool a few years ago (and re-read it before continuing the series this time around) and fell a little in book-love with the world. Humans mess everything up, and are now forced to live in silos beneath the ground. Conspiracies run deep and one’s entire life is relegated to how many flights of stairs one can bear to climb. I thought the concept was imaginative and well done, and I truly liked the characters.

Shift is a prequel/sequel to Wool, and it tries to fill in the gaps of some of the character’s actions and plot events from Wool. It tries to turn back the clock and reveal how the silos came to be, and why some of the flaws we saw in the system in the first book are really much more serious than we thought.

Unfortunately, Shift really feels like it falls into the sophomore slump of book series: the second book feels like a bridge (sometimes a very flimsy one) between the entrance to the trilogy and its exit. At times it tries too hard to fill in the little gaps in the story. And when it does go into detail about the bigger picture, I am left with too many unanswered questions and head scratches.

We meet Donald. Donald formerly studied architecture and is now trying to make it in the world of politics. He gets into a sticky situation when his boss, a senator, asks him to create a hypothetical silo to house people underground. And we all know how “hypothetical” that turns out to be…

It is difficult to feel sympathetic for Donald. He whines. He pines. He is, in general, a very conflicted man. About everything. While it can be nice to have a character genuinely conflicted about the end of days, and the social/political/societal implications of all of that, you just kind of want to smack him sometimes.

We yo-yo between scenes from the “past” – supposedly modern day America, where Donald is creating silos and remaining completely naïve about why he is doing so  – and scenes from the story’s present – focusing on the silo where Donald is routinely frozen and then re-animated in order to solve issues with other silos. AND THEN we have a few extra side stories thrown in for good measure: Legacy, a teenager in a silo about to go rogue, and Jimmy, more commonly known as Solo, the survivor Juliet meets in the other silo in Wool.

I think Legacy and Jimmy’s stories are attempts at humanizing and backfilling the story of the silos. I bought more into Jimmy’s than I did Legacy’s. Legacy’s story did not further explain what makes silos go rogue. In fact, it only served to confuse me more. Jimmy’s story was a pure going-for-the-heartstrings piece. Somehow Jimmy survives 90% of his silo dying in a mass exodus or killing each other (why the member of this silo suddenly feel the need to leave or murder each other remains forever unclear). The rest of his story goes over his incredibly lonely, terrified existence.

AND THEN THEY BRING IN AN ADORABLE CAT COMPANION AND I FREAKED OUT BECAUSE ANY TIME THEY BRING IN A CUTE FLUFFY ANIMAL, IT IS ONLY SO THEY CAN REACH IN AND RIP OUT YOUR HEART BY MAKING THE CUTE FLUFFY ANIMAL DIE A TERRIBLE DEATH. EVERY TIME THE CAT SHOWED UP IN THE BOOK, I EXPECTED THEM TO KILL IT OFF AND MURDER MY SOUL.

But I digress. Dwelling on Legacy and Jimmy’s stories was sometimes more compelling than whatever Annoying Donald was doing at the time. So while I think the time the story spent on them was a little pandering and maybe…not worth it? Sometimes I liked them better than the main story. Not a good sign, maybe.

My biggest issue is that I had to suspend a lot of disbelief about the circumstances of the silos. For a book that is used essentially to further set up the world of Wool, and to fill in information, I had So. Many. Questions. Many of which would be spoilers if I listed them here. But suffice to say that I still don’t know how they have the materials to even operate the silos (how are they manufacturing the plastic and metal to make all of those suits?!). I don’t know truly why or even how the world became wrecked to the point of needing the silos. And I really don’t understand the method by which silos get X-ed off the map. The answer is literally foggy (which is a pun-y joke if you read Shift…).

So while I still love the world Wool is set in, and I liked moments in Shift, I don’t think this prequel/sequel bridged the gap very thoroughly. I was left with a lot of questions and a lot of new characters I didn’t love as much as I did in the first book.

My Grade: C

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