Reading Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga – Some Thoughts Upon Nearing Its Completion

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A while ago, Amazon announced that Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga would be opening up to Kindle Worlds; having written about that, I decided a few weeks ago to check the books out – at the urging of another indie author, Brian Meeks, who does some pretty interesting stuff with self-publishing how-tos himself.

Thanks to an e-loan from Brian, I started reading WOOL. It kicks off with the story of a dystopian world where people live in a vast underground silo; the desire to go “outside” earns those who ask for it exactly that – the problem being that outside is said to be full of radioactivity and toxins. In other words, if you want some fresh air, you’re gonna get sent to your death.

I peeled through WOOL in a handful of days. The story starts small then builds; Howey layers one discovery on top of the next, and one finds the world of the book slowly telescoping outwards. Some realizations on the part of the characters are foreshadowed a little too heavily, but Howey doesn’t wait long before making his reveals in these situations, so you feel like you’re only a step or two ahead of his characters.

At the end of WOOL, I bought SHIFT – the second book in the series – and started getting into this deeper backstory on the world I’d spent time in throughout book one. The story here starts to put together some of the pieces the first book has laid out, delving deeper into the reasoning behind how things wound up the way they are. SHIFT is in many ways a

quieter novel than WOOL, more about interpersonal relationships and plans being made by powerful people, how they affect others and how they affect the people making those decisions. There are small knots of characterization that grated me in this book, particularly early on in the novel, but by its conclusion the reader watches the strength of Howey’s female characters coming into its own once again.

By the end of SHIFT I wanted  to read DUST, but given how much more compelling the first book had been, I was hesitant to spend the money. Luckily, Howey allows his readers to loan their e-books; within a few minutes of tweeting that I wondered if anybody would loan it to me, a friend from the West Coast had pinged me on Amazon and loaned me the novel. (I could write an entire blog entry about how awesome it was to get a loaned book from 3K miles away within a matter of minutes, but that would be another blog entry.)

Now I’m about halfway through DUST and the desire not to drop spoilers means I can only give the barest of hints as to what’s going on. What impresses me about Howey’s writing is the way his setting and narrative expand in sync with one another. By book three, he has a solid cast of characters, and some of them have begun taking drastic measures to achieve their goals.

One thing that’s kept me from enjoying media in recent years is when I can’t identify with the lead female protagonists. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was an early casualty of this issue – the way the women in this show were presented strained my ability to suspend disbelief. In contrast, while the world of the silo is not precisely a progressive one, there are women with agency in positions of power – even the main character makes her own decisions and follows through on them, and generally kicks ass and takes names every time she gets confronted by roadblocks to her success. She also shows vulnerability and thoughtfulness, she pressures herself to achieve her goals. I’m enjoying reading about her immensely, and suspect her absence from much of book 2 helped make that book less engaging for me (though the two female protagonists Howey introduces in book 2 are also engging. Regardless, I’m enjoying the female protagonist in this story immensely. She’s skilled, determined, exhibits agency at every turn, and bends the world around her to her will. She doesn’t give up. She fights hard for what she believes in. She loses people and things she cares about during the course of the story, has her entire world shattered, and is now in the stages of trying to rebuild it.

I haven’t had a chance to review the three books on Goodreads – one problem with writing reviews for multiple books is that the specifics of what happens where, for me, begins to blend together – but for readers looking for good dystopian

science fiction, I would recommend the Silo Saga for its intricate mythos and carefully-built reality. The books are human and compelling. Howey has good command of how to put together an emotionally engaging, complex tale on a scale that moves from the personal to the epic. While I’m still waiting to see how the third book ends and hoping it lives up to my expectations, regardless, Howey’s done a bang-up job of putting together a trilogy with staying power. When one compares The Silo Saga to some of the other self-published work out there, it seems like this might be a popular sci-fi classic in the making. Here’s hoping.

The Silo stories bring up some fascinating questions about humanity and the lengths to which a few driven men can take a society that considers its own survival to be vital. It also speaks to the importance of questioning authority and reasoning things out. In some ways, it’s a book that shows the failings of a cargo culture and of the loss of manufacturing knowledge going on in America today. Conformity and groupthink come into play; so do questions about traditional societies mapped onto radical tactics for survival. Knowledge and power are sharply equated. Rebelliousness, though not rewarded, and individualism in the face of regimented societal expectations is more of a burden than a help – until such a point where the individual breaks through an invisible barrier and is given Power from an external source.

With another hour or so of reading before I come to the conclusion of the Silo Saga canon, I wanted to jot some of these down. Have you read the Silo Saga? What’s you’re take on the novels, both as sources of entertainment and as wider political commentary? While I’ve tried to keep this entry spoiler-free, please feel free to get into a spoiler-riffic discussion in the comments.

If you haven’t yet read Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga, the first book is available at the NYPL (and I would assume some other libraries, since it’s carried by Simon and Schuster now, or else do what I did – ask for the loan of the first book from someone else, then I’m happy to let others borrow my sharable Kindle e-copy of book two before you find your way to reading book three.

Enjoy the ride. And (mini spoiler) don’t breathe the argon gas.

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