& Reviews: Dust by Hugh Howey

Dust by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: CreateSpace. August 2013.

Dust by Hugh Howey. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: CreateSpace. August 2013.

The Book Itself: This simple, graphic cover brings to mind the barren, undesirable landscape outside of the silos. It looks pretty damn ominous to me, a good final note to end a dystopian series on.

My Review: In a time when secrets and lies were the foundations of life, someone has discovered the truth. And they are going to tell.

Jules knows what her predecessors created. She knows they are the reason life has to be lived in this way.

And she won’t stand for it.

But Jules no longer has supporters. And there is far more to fear than the toxic world beyond her walls.

A poison is growing from within Silo 18.

One that cannot be stopped.

Unless Silo 1 step in

I followed up Shift, Hugh Howey’s self-published sequel to his very well-done omnibus Wool, with this novel so that I could really read the series from start to finish and get my impressions of it as a whole.

My impression? The first book is by far the best.

Dust picks up where Wool left off, with Juliet now the major of her silo, Donald causing trouble/generally going nuts over in Silo 1, and Solo/Jimmy worrying about being around people again over in his own silo. His concerns eventually become moot point because Juliet is just going to drill over there anyway, and all the worlds collide.

This book tries to pick up the action from Shift, and in doing so, several things get lost in the shuffle.

First, good old Donald. I never connected with Donald in Shift and I don’t feel any closer to him now. He makes even more stupid decisions, is basically haunted by his former boss, and never really redeems himself from being an emotional wreck. We meet his sister, Charlotte. Her main purpose in the story is to worry about her brother and put her background in mechanical skills to work finding out more about the world beyond the silos. I don’t feel overly connected to her either.

Several promising plot points are abandoned, whether from the series’ previous installments or Dust creating stories of its own. There is an extremely confusing side story about Elise, one of the children living with Solo/Jimmy in Silo 17, and then moving over into Silo 18.

Semi-spoiler alert here, folks. But the side story goes nowhere so I do not think you would be hurt for reading about it. For no apparent reason, the church that sets up shop in Silo 17 decides to kidnap Elise and marry her off to a grown man against her will or understanding. It is very unclear why they think marrying children is a sold plan for a future in a new silo. Is every adult going to marry multiple children, and thus (really grossly) repopulate the silo with dozens more new children? There is no indication of the church really having much of a presence in either of the other books. In fact, I am only really made aware of the church’s existence in the beginning of Dust, when Juliet talks to a priest about her unpopular decisions to drill beneath the silos. So why spend a brief handful of pages on this creepy set up when it ultimately serves no conclusion or purpose? Jimmy gets Elise back, they move on, and no one from the church comes after them. If the entire purpose was to show just how low people could sink in the wake of destruction, it is not done very clearly or, I think, effectively.

The ending tries to put too positive an ending on a tragic (and not yet finished!) story. We do not know the definitive fate of anyone other than the handful of people interacting at the end of the story. Did silos that fell in this book truly fall? And what about every other silo out there? It feels less like a conclusion rounding out a series and more like a to-be-continued, lets-leave-things-open ending. Not what I was expecting, and rather disappointing to a series that started off so strong for me. I did like this last story better than the second installment, simply for the return of characters I loved from Wool and the breakneck pace. But the plot lines for this Silo Saga still seem overall a little wobbly to me.

My Grade: C

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& 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

& Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. Fiction. Publisher: Hogarth

The Book Itself: I picked this ARC (current release date is October 28th, 2014) from the pile of ARCs at my work mostly because of this book’s somewhat gimmicky appeal: gold, gilt-edged pages, the kind you’d find on an old school Bible. That’s right, I picked it because it was shiny. I like the biblical and sci-fi allusions on the cover, too: the two halves of this book’s story.

Peter-devoted pastor, dedicated missionary, and loving husband to his wife, Bea-has just accepted a demanding and perilous new job. He’s to travel to a new planet, Oasis, to work for a mysterious corporation called USIC. He’s tasked with reaching out to the indigenous race, to make sure they are as peaceful as they seem. Resolutely devout and strengthened by his letters from Bea at home, Peter undertakes his job with complete focus. The Oasans are shockingly open to his teachings, but things start to unravel when Bea’s missives from Earth take a dark tone. Earth appears to be coming apart at the seams: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries and governments are crumbling. Even the hospital where she works has ceased to function. Their unearthly divide is testing Peter and Bea’s relationship to a startlingly degree. Peter is thrown into crisis. USIC might be hiding its true motives in developing Oasis, and the Oasans themselves are frustratingly opaque. Bea’s desperate letters are only fomenting his doubt. Peter is suddenly faced with an impossible-and dangerous-decision: to follow his faith, or follow his heart. His life depends on it.

Review:  If I were allowed only two words to describe this book, I’d use these: quietly powerful. Which is a little surprising, as I was somewhat expecting this to be more action-packed than it was, more dangerous. I was also (worriedly) expecting it to be more preachy. It turns out I am glad it was neither. I didn’t want a book that would try to convert me to religion. I wanted a story, not a sermon, in other words.

That quiet power comes not from Peter’s mysterious employer: USIC (why the heck he’d take a job with a company he knew nothing about that would require him to hyperjump into outer space and then make contact with an alien race and try to convert them to religion, not knowing if they were violent and/or dangerous is a mystery to me. Seriously, Peter, think these things through…). It comes not from the docile race of “Oasians” he encounters (who have conveniently already found Jesus, how about that). But from his wife, and the world he left behind. He can only communicate with her through monitored e-mails (USIC doesn’t allow videochatting or phone calls…this sounds like an awful, fishy gig, man…). And when the world around her starts to crumble, and she can’t communicate with him, and he is, let’s face it, a little removed and distracted by other things on another planet, she understandably gets a little shaken. She loses the faith that brought them together, and all he can do to reassure her is write some words on a screen. I found this to be a very modern, very believable problem – the impersonal feel of e-mail in the face of real problems, how a lack of real communication can test, even unravel a strong relationship.

The biggest event to happen in the book…I’m not going to tell you about. Because 1.) Hello spoilers, and 2.) It sounds inconsequential on paper, until you read about the characters and the slow fatigue of her faith and situation on Earth, and his lack of ability to empathize. The event itself is sad, but commonplace. But it is what happens because of the event, and how the news is delivered that really packs a punch. I was gutted by the climax, even though it wasn’t a huge event. I was gutted because of the emotions of the characters, and the bleak, eerie situation they found themselves in. Don’t you love when book reviews are intentionally vague so you can “enjoy the story”? Hate that.

So while some of the events the synopsis outlines do not explode out of the gate like you expect them to, it’s a great book. Wonderfully written. The only real missed opportunity is USIC – you have to suspend your disbelief about Peter actually taking the job. Conveniently, he feels called by God to help this alien race. Otherwise, if I were him, there’s no way I’d take a job from such a mysterious company. He doesn’t even get paid a truckload of money! And when you finally find out USIC’s true mission…it’s not that surprising. The clues are there from the beginning (from the synopsis of the book, really). USIC is not the huge looming crux of the story as it maybe should be. But I’m over it.

It’s an amazing book. Just don’t read it for scenes of action, for a fast-paced, typical sci-fi book. Read it for the well-built, slow tension and the characters and story that stay with you long after you close its gold gilt pages.

My Grade: A

Recommended:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey

In The Poisonwood Bible, the protagonist, attempting to convert citizens in an African village to God, accidentally tells his constituents that Jesus is poisonwood (not the best angle). And Hugh Howey is just excellent. Read Wool if you like dystopian fiction at all.