Shift – a promise fulfilled

shift picScience fiction author Hugh Howey has been a firm favourite of mine since I read, and reviewed, his novel ‘Half Way Home’. I subsequently read ‘Wool’, the serialized novel that first pushed this unassuming indie writer to stardom. I enjoyed Wool, but it left me feeling as if there should have been something… more.

Shift is that something more.

For those of you who have never read Wool, the story tells of a post-apocalyptic time in the US when the only survivors live in a mammoth silo buried deep underground. This upside-down skyscraper is the only world that generations of survivors have ever known because the world outside is still toxic.

The story is gripping, and fast paced, with strong, likable characters, but the hints about how this all came about, and how the silo really works, only explain the ‘how’ and the ‘now’. They do not go deeper into the ‘why’.

The three novels that together comprise the Shift Omnibus not only provide the historical context that Wool lacks, they provide a chilling glimpse into the political and cultural attitudes that can allow something like this to happen. They also make the reader wonder if something like this could ever happen in real life.

To put it simply, Shift is that rare beast, a series that makes you think. And that is exactly why I delayed this review for so long.

I crave novels that make me think, but I have learned that a lot of readers simply want to be entertained. They want to be taken out of the real world, not seduced into wondering if the world in which they live is really as ‘safe’ as they think it is.

These are the people who publicly objected to George R.R.Martin killing off some of their favourite characters in A Song of Fire and Ice. These are also the people who demand a happy ending no matter what.

Now George R.R.Martin is so big in the world of fantasy that his fans far out-weigh his detractors, but Hugh Howey is a young author with his feet still planted firmly in the indie world. And therein lies my problem. I truly believe Shift is the best thing Howey has written [so far] and the last thing I want to do is put readers off by making them think Shift is too philosophical, or  political, or literary. Or too much like ‘work’.

The hell of it is that Shift is philosophical, political, literary etc., but there is nothing inaccessible about it. Yes there were times when I literally re-read the same sentence again and again – just because the prose was so beautiful. But at the same time there was nothing  ‘arty farty’, or ‘see how many big words I know’ about it.

In the same way, a reader can choose to go deep into the philosophy, or simply enjoy the characters and the plot. This next bit will be a little bit of a spoiler,  but it illustrates my point :

Spoiler alert

There is a character called Solo in Shift. He has lived in a silo by himself for years, his only companion a little cat. But cats don’t live forever, and one day the cat dies. 

Now I love cats, so I was going to be affected no matter what, but I believe even someone who hated cats would be touched because of  Solo’s reaction.  The loneliness radiating from that scene is universal.  It really could make a stone weep. And yet there is not a word of melodrama from start to finish.

End spoiler alert

So to all those science fiction readers out there,  I’d like to say this –  no matter what you are looking for in a book, you will find it in Shift.

I rarely give out stars because they are so arbitrary, but if pressed I would give Shift a 6/5. It truly is a promise fulfilled.



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

18 responses to “Shift – a promise fulfilled

  • Stephanie Allen Crist

    Hm. Sounds like it should go on my list. Thanks! 🙂


  • metan

    Aaaarrgghh! I have had Wool on my kindle since you reviewed it and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Oh well, Shift will be in the queue now too…. 🙂


  • lorddavidprosserDavid

    A really great review by someone who obviously knows her subject well. Though al books are a matter of taste, your review would be enough to make me want to read not just this one but the series. xx Hugs xx


  • GP

    Reblogged this on misentopop.


  • GP

    Reblogged this on misentopop.


  • EllaDee

    I agree with your 6.5, and it was you who introduced me to Hugh Howey, so a big thank you. I finished Shift last week, loved it and agree exactly with your comments regarding Solo and Shadow. HH trated it so powerfully and so subtly. I haven’t read Wool yet, am on the library reserve list but a work colleague says she will finish it this weekend, and her copy will be mine! Then we will all be waiting for Dust 🙂


    • acflory

      Yes! Someone to discuss it with.:) I’m so glad you liked Shift. Sometimes I worry that I’m just gushing like a lunatic and everyone else is going, oh poor Meeks, she’s lost it again. 😀

      Do you have a Kindle? I’m reading a book-4-review at the moment that I downloaded from Goodreads. It’s not quite up to Hugh Howey’s standard but I’m about 1/3 of the way in and I’m quite impressed. It’s called The Lazaretto [sci-fi again].


      • EllaDee

        No Kindle. I read Indies on my phone but otherwise it’s usually hardcopies from the libarry for me, but Bailee has promised me Wooll ASAP 🙂 I’ll check out The Lazaretto.
        When I started Shift, I thought this is going to freak me out… but it just drew me in. And I knew what was coming with Shadow, just hoped I wouldn’t be on the train…
        Knowing what I know know, I think I will enjoy Wool more, reading it second, from a frame of reference POV.
        As you know, I haven’t been a huge sci-fi reader to date but I’m so glad you had that chat with HH, and posted about it.


  • Tasha Turner

    I haven’t read Wool yet. It’s been sitting on my kindle for months. I’m so far behind on everything I want to read it keeps dropping of my radar. I finally got a copy for my husband because if he loves it he will make sure I read it so we can discuss it.

    I love Hugh’s general attitude about most things. How down to earth he is and how open he had been about everything. His YouTube videos are pretty funny. I occasionally read his blog or kindle boards. More often I bump into him on blogs we are both active on.

    Rant beginning (sorry):
    I could not make it past chapter 1 of George RR Martins book. Just to violent and abusive for me. My taste tends to be pretty eclectic though so a lot of books are hit or miss. I’ve also gotten really tired of the amount of rape in fiction. Been there done that. Got more than a t-shirt. Really feel like authors could be a bit more creative than constantly falling back on the same old thing. It’s been done. A lot. Try something new. /end rant

    Glad you enjoyed Shift! I’ve added it to the ever growing TBR 😀


    • acflory

      I’m not as aware of rape as a plot technique but I agree, it’s definitely not something to be thrown around like confetti. 😦

      That said you’ll be pleased to know there is no rape anywhere in Hugh’s books. Violence yes, but it’s never gratuitous. And I agree completely, he is a genuinely nice person. However if he did not write so extraordinarily well I wouldn’t read his books.

      You can read Shift without having read Wool, but it will have more of an impact if you read Wool first. I really hope your husband enjoys it because I’m dying to know what you think!


Don't be shy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: