Tag Archives: Hugh-Howey

Hugh Howey interview

I am a huge Hugh Howey fan. I’m also 3/4 of the way through Dust. What else could I blog about on a Saturday morning but an interview with one of my favourite science fiction authors? Um, that was a rhetorical…

So without further ado, here is the link to a fascinating interview with an incredibly likable young man!

View at Medium.com

[Note : my thanks to the Passive Guy for pointing me towards the interview].

Happy Weekend!


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.



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.




Half Way Home – a review

half way homeFor days now, I’ve been feeling the need to write another review, but none of the books I’ve read recently has had that little something extra that makes writing a review a joy instead of a chore. Many were interesting, and provided an enjoyable read, but if I were into rankings, they’d be a 4 out of 5.

Today I’m pleased to announce that Hugh Howey’s science fiction novel, ‘Half Way Home’, finally woke the delighted child in my head. You know the one, it’s that little voice that jumps up and down, pumps the air and shrieks ‘Yes!’ without any thought to dignity. Well, my inner child is bubbling with happiness at the moment, and like it or not, I’m going to tell you why.

‘Half Way Home’ begins with a rather dark soliloquy, some would call it a prologue, and right there I knew this novel would be brave.

In classical fiction, writers were allowed to  introduce place, time and characters gently. Modern style pundits however, are adamant that stories must jump straight into the action, hooking the reader in the very first paragraph.

Why? Because readers are supposed to have the attention span of a gnat. If you don’t hook them early, you will lose them.

Hugh Howey ignored that commandment, and that is why I say he is brave. The soliloquy/prologue is more than interesting in its own right, and I loved it, but I can see how it might not appeal to readers who just want to get stuck into the action.

The story unfolds in the first person, and we learn that the protagonist, Porter, is a colonist who was born when he was fifteen – fifteen years too early. Bear with me here.

Along with the other 499 fertilized eggs sent out from Earth, Porter’s development was suspended until the AI controlling the colony ship learned their destination was a viable planet. After that the eggs were allowed to develop, and the new colonists  spent fifteen years in vats, living digital lives while they learned the professions that would be needed by the new colony.

The technology and logic behind this vision of future colonization is spot on. When just reaching the nearest star system will take multiple generations, the most logical and cost effective way of reaching the stars is to send eggs rather than fully grown humans.

Unfortunately, the corporations sending out these colony ships are seeking to maximize their profits, so if the AI controlling a colony ship discovers its assigned planet is unviable, it aborts the mission. In this context abort means destroy. The ship, the eggs, and the AI itself are nuked to ensure no rival corporation can learn any patented secrets.

But sometimes things don’t go to plan.

The action part of the story begins when Porter and the others are decanted from their vats. They take their first real breaths in a world of nightmare. The vat module is on fire, and of the original 500 colonists stored in the vats, only 50 odd manage to find the exit in time. The rest die in the aborted abort. Apparently the AI began the abort sequence but changed its mind.

Why? And what will happen to Porter and the other survivors now? With all their supplies gone, they are naked and starving on a world that is very different to Earth.

Before I continue with the plot, I have to say a word or two about the world the author created. Imagine a forest where the trees are as big as skyscrapers, and the canopy is two kilometres high. Now imagine the size of the ‘bombfruit’ that falls from those trees, and the pony-sized caterpillars that chew on them. This is science fiction at its most inventive!

The rest of the story follows the lives of Porter, and the other survivors as they unravel the mystery of their birth. The plot is strong, and I did not notice any niggling inconsistencies that can ruin an otherwise good story. Nonetheless,  it is the characters who make it come alive.

As the survivors begin forming friendships, and relationships, we discover that Porter is gay, and like most fifteen year olds, he is bewildered by his feelings. He loves Tarsi, the girl who was born in the vat next to his, but he is attracted to Kelvin, a boy destined to be a farmer.

On the face of it, this eternal triangle should be trite, but the author never lets the relationships between the characters overshadow the rest of the story. This is not a romance thinly disguised as science fiction!

Porter’s secret feelings remain a side-note to the far more immediate needs of survival. In a very real sense they don’t matter. Who Porter is as a person, is far more important than his sexual orientation.

The whole issue of Porter’s sexual orientation was handled so well, I assumed the author must be gay. Wrong. If you read the acknowledgements at the end of the novel you will discover that Hugh Howey is a straight, married man with gay friends.

I’m female and straight, so I can’t attest to how accurately Howey portrays the thoughts and feelings of a young gay man, but I have gay friends too, and I think he does it well. More importantly, I believe Howey is a humanist who relates to people as people rather than as males, females or gays, and this comes through in his writing.

I’ve spoken at length about the gay element in ‘Half Way Home’ because it is one of the major themes of the novel, but it is not the only one. Uncaring corporate greed is another, and Howey pulls no punches in condemning it. I agree with him wholeheartedly, but… I think he could have been a tiny bit more subtle with the ending. It is a very uplifting ending, and I wouldn’t call it preachy, but I suspect ‘less’ would have been just as effective as ‘more’.

‘Half Way Home’ is not the novel that catapulted Hugh Howey to fame as an indie author, ‘Wool’ is the book which did that. Nonetheless I loved ‘Half Way Home’ because, for me, it had everything I look for in any novel – strong plot, strong prose, strong characters. But best of all, it had strong cultural and philosophical themes that made me think.

One of the reasons I love science fiction is because it allows authors to explore controversial themes in extreme settings that bring out the best and worst in all of us. We all believe we would be honourable and altruistic if push came to shove, but we are rarely put to the test. When we read good science fiction, it allows us to experience such extremes, at least vicariously. And it can make us question many of the attitudes we take for granted.

Having read ‘Half Way Home’, I intend to read everything Hugh Howey has written. Nonetheless, I am very glad I read this novel first. It has given me an insight into the thinking of the author, and demonstrated the calibre of his writing. I would recommend it to all fans of quality science fiction.


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