The Trouble With the Serial Novel

I recently finished the horror and dystopia that is Hugh Howey’s, Wool, and I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into when the adventure began. I knew vaguely that it was a dystopic novel; that it was self-published and became a huge success; and I’d heard whispers of movie deals. I went in with my usual low expectations and was pleasantly surprised to find myself entranced. For a while. The one thing that I didn’t know until after I’d finished the book was that it was originally written as a novella. Apparently as it gained in popularity, Howey continued to add novellas to the series. And that’s where the trouble began.

First, though, I did like the book! Mostly.

As I mentioned, I was completely entranced with the beginning. I listened to it on a couple of plane rides, and flying typically terrifies me. So I was especially excited to discover that all the action, intrigue and suspense of this book were exactly what I needed to distract myself from my fears.

Howey has crafted a clever, unique tale of a futuristic civilization forced to live in a silo underground due to the horrible toxic poisons engulfing the earth above. When a citizen misbehaves or wishes to leave the silo, they are sentenced to “cleaning,” which is where they walk out into the poisoned atmosphere wearing a specialized suit, clean the sensors outside of the silo, and then die as the toxins eat away at the suit. At least, that’s what appears to happen. The civilization is rife with conspiracy, and getting to the truth can be, as usual, deadly. Howey’s writing is engaging and the storyline powerful. The simple fact that I finished the book speaks highly of it. (I have better things to do with my time than read books I don’t like.)

I had two big issues with the book though. First, and of lesser importance, were the events during the first half of the book that made it nearly impossible to form any attachment to characters later on. I won’t elaborate much for fear of giving something away, but I will say that because I wasn’t allowed to care about the characters involved, the second issue I had with the book became more pronounced. That second issue was the serial nature of the story.

As seen with novels by Dickens (of whom I’m a huge fan), stories that are published in segments, rather than all at once, have a tendency to get long-winded. Wool is no exception. The problem is that I didn’t realize in advance this was the case, so I wasn’t properly prepared mentally for the excessive length of the story. And it got long. There were times near then end where I found myself wishing the main character would die just so the book would end (again, exacerbated by the fact that I couldn’t allow myself to get emotionally attached). Wool didn’t suffer from repetition, like Dickens’ novels do, but I suspect novellas have a little more freedom with excessive detail than longer works do. An editor with a sharp tool could have done wonders for the story overall.

I mentioned that I finished the book, which I did, but it was a case of just barely. I got about 2/3 of the way through and just wanted the blasted thing to end. The main character just faced one near-death experience after another, and every one was drawn out to unreasonable lengths. At one point, I gave up on the book altogether, but the strength of the storyline won out, and I finally went back to finish the book. I’m glad I did. It was a truly creative and unique story, and I would recommend it to others. That said, I probably won’t waste my time with the rest of the Silo Series.

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