Hugh Howey on Wool

One of the nice things about getting to the Supanova Expo rather late on the last day was that I missed the crowds around the Dymocks stand. That stroke of luck allowed me to spend quite a long time chatting with Hugh Howey about his work, in particular Wool.

Wool_Wool started out as a one-off, science fiction short story about a man who lived in an underground silo with the last survivors of an unspecified catastrophe. The life, and death, of that man captured readers’ imaginations, and made them want more. Howey gave them more in a series of installments which ended up becoming the Wool Omnibus.

Coming late to everything, as I do, I did not discover Wool until the whole story was complete, so I read it as novel. And loved it. I loved the characters, and I loved the small, tight world in which they lived.

Imagine a huge skyscraper with no elevators, just stairs. Now imagine that skyscraper being buried underground, and becoming your whole world. Imagine mining, generators and workshops in the basement levels, food production in the mid levels, a few floors devoted just to IT, and finally a top section where huge view screens bring in real-time pictures of an outside that is dead.

Now imagine what kind of a society would develop in that underground skyscraper after countless generations. Population control would be critical, as would the justice system. How would you deal with crime in a world that has no room for a prison?

In Wool, those who break the laws are fitted with environment suits and sent out to clean the sensors that bring the view of the outside into the silo. But becoming a cleaner is a one-way trip because the suits can only hold back the toxic atmosphere for a short time.

That is the world of Wool. The story, however, is about people like you or I. People with dreams and aspirations. People who can’t help questioning the status quo in a society where questions can lead to a one-way trip outside.

The whole concept of Wool had me intrigued, but as in any good story, it was the characters who made the story compelling. Nonetheless, there were a couple of points towards the end of the story which had me a little puzzled.

Caught up in the excitement of talking face to face with a writer I admire,  I lost all my inhibitions and began peppering Howey with questions that must have bordered on the critical. If someone had done that to me I’m sure I would have become defensive, or even offended.  Not so Hugh Howey. When I asked him why the relationship between the protagonist, Juliette, and Lukas, a member of the IT group, seemed to happen so quickly, he explained without rancour that he is a romantic and believes in love at first sight, because it has happened to him.

Listening to Howey speak with great passion about his wife, I suddenly realized the question was not why the characters had fallen in love so quickly, but why had I forgotten what it was like to be young?

The second issue I broached with Howey had to do with the unexpected twist at the end of the story. I can’t discuss it in any detail because that would spoil Wool for everyone who hasn’t yet read it. What I will say, however, is that Howey’s explanation gave me a real ‘Ah hah!’ moment as a writer. It also made me admire his mastery of the craft even more.

To understand exactly what I’m talking about you really should read Wool for yourselves. The story combines detailed, and highly believable world building with some of the best character development I’ve read in a very long time, and yet the pace never drags.

The point about character development is particularly important because the main character is female.

I’ve mentioned before how hard it is to write a character, a believable character, of the opposite sex. Yet Hugh Howey makes it look easy. He has that rare ability of climbing right inside his characters, and making them real. He did it with the character of Porter in Half Way Home, and he did it with Juliette in Wool. Two completely different characters, of different sexes and different sexual orientations, yet both feel authentic. That, to me, is the hallmark of a great writer.

If I had to choose my favourite Howey novel, I would still have to say ‘Half Way Home’, simply because it is so innovative, ground breaking, and brave. Nonetheless, Wool comes a very, very close second.

20th Century Fox, and director Ridley Scott want to adapt Wool for the silver screen. Clearly I, and the multitude of Howey fans are  not the only ones to recognize talent when we see it. The fact that talent belongs to a charming, unassuming indie author is just icing on the cake.

My thanks to Hugh Howey for answering a stranger’s  questions with grace and honesty.




About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

23 responses to “Hugh Howey on Wool

  • EllaDee

    Stop it! You make these novels, and this author sound so good I immediately added the books to my Goodreads list. You’re changing my reading habits 😉 While I was in Goodreads, I added this review of Vokhtah and put it up on Amazon also 🙂


    • acflory

      Yes! -grin- You won’t be disappointed. I promise!!!!!

      And thank you Ella, from the bottom of my bobby socks. I’m racing straight across to Amazon right now! -huge hugs-


  • metan

    I love my kindle, I had already read Half Way Home so when I read this I quickly zoomed over there and bought Wool, it sounds great!
    I think I need to go on holiday to get some decent reading time….. My list of ‘waiting to be reads’ is growing by the day!


    • acflory

      -dance- You make me so happy. You will love Wool . 😀

      And I know about that list all too well. I swore I’d keep my Kindle reading to manageable proportions but I’m up to 8 to-be-reads already, and that doesn’t count the two print books I bought at Supanova. The damn Kindle has become an addiction. 😦


      • metan

        The Man bought me an ipad mini the other day (that I love so much it will probably be getting a post of its own soon) and I have populated that with yet-to-be-read books as well. A estimation tells me that I now have at least 15 books waiting their turn!

        The only read reading time I get in the week is the half an hour I spend every Thursday sitting in the car while the kids have music lessons! I really need to start making time to read, don’t I?

        You’re right, the ease of purchasing ebooks makes them an addiction! I know that the ebook has been blamed for the demise of books, but there is no way I would have bought those 15 books in print just to leave them lying around the house waiting for me to find the time.


        • acflory

          I try to restrict my reading to bedtime – simply can’t go to sleep without reading for a while – but sometimes a story grabs me so much I either stay up until all hours, or spend the day curled up on the recliner just turning pages.

          And what you say about ebooks is FACT! I actually credit the ebook, and the cheap price, as bringing people back to reading. I always made space in my budget for a few new books but at $30 a pop [or close thereto] I would only buy new books from my favourite authors. Now I’m sampling all sorts of genres and all sorts of writers because cost is no longer an issue.

          I really believe the big publishers strangled the goose that lay the golden eggs.


          • metan

            I also have no space at all to fit any more books into my house! Virtual books are a blessing in such a small house as mine. 😀


          • acflory

            Same here. Until the Daughter moves out and takes her books with her, I have to take books to the Opp shop before I can bring in any more. So yes, I’d be lost without my Kindle too.


  • littlemissobsessivesanatomy

    Dear Meeka, sorry have been away for little long and missed so much on your blog…trying to catch up now…
    have nominated your for Liebster blog award…
    here have a look please


  • Jill James

    I read Wool in parts so it was funny to see me at 1 a.m. on my Nook to get the next part. I couldn’t read it fast enough. World-building was extraordinary.


    • acflory

      I’ve only just started reading Shift and already I’m glad there’s more when I finish! And I agree, his world building is so vivid you feel as if you could use the book as a map to get from top to bottom!


  • Carrie Rubin

    I’ve heard good things about this book. Nice that you got a chance to ask him some questions.


  • Jim

    Great post, very lucky encounter. It goes to show that Hugh is not an act, but a genuinely great advocate of writers and readers everywhere.


  • Chris James

    Wow, that’s great that you had such a chat with him, well done! I know the plot point you refer to, and I felt the same way about it, so double well done for asking about it. 🙂


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