Woolgathering

One of the things that I absolutely love about the Kindle is that it’s taking me back to the era of my childhood — and cheap books.  Books got pretty expensive for a while there, and a few years ago I was dumping up to $30 per book store visit for two or three novels — or just one if it was a hot new hardcover.  But back when I was young, I used to haunt secondhand bookstores and library outlets where I could pick up a stack of stories with money leftover in my allowance for a malt.  No, wait, that was a different generation.  A Go-Bot, perhaps.

My theory back then — as it is now — is that no matter how good a book looks or how highly acclaimed it is, there’s still a good chance it won’t do the trick for you, so why not pile the odds in your favor with a bunch of books instead of one or two?  In short, when I’m paying $15 for a book, I’m far less likely to take risks with unknown qualities, but if they’re free or just a few bucks, then sure, fill my bag up!

That’s what the Kindle store is to me now.  Sure, I still pick up the odd hot new release, but I’m finding that when I’m out shopping, I’m frequently pilfering the freebies and discounts for surprisingly good deals.  That’s what brought me to Wool, a rising star in the Amazon Kindle charts and only $0.99 to boot.  Why not take a chance, especially with all the five-star ratings going on?

Glad I did, too, because it turns out that Wool is not only a gripping little post-apocalyptic tale, but the first of a series.  Author Hugh Howey apparently uploaded Wool, a short novella, to the Kindle store without great expectations, but when it started to outperform all his other works, he decided to make this into a multi-part series, each with a dollar-priced novella that would pick up the story from where it left off, but from a different character’s point of view — and he wrote several of them during last year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.  Wool 4 just came out not too long ago, and I know he’s already half-finished with Wool 5, which I think will be the last of the series.

Wool works because Howey gives us a radically different type of post-apocalyptic tale and couples that with really gripping revelations, mysteries, and plot twists — all within a quick read (each Wool novella took me between one and two hours to read).  It’s set in the Silo, where apparently the last of humanity has lived for quite some time, unable to go out into the toxic world above, and under severe penalty of even talking about the outside.  It’s fascinating to see how Howey sets up the Silo to be a functioning community without the typical post-apocalyptic references we’re used to seeing.  For instance, we have no idea what happened on the outside, how long it’s been since the Silo was founded, or why there’s an “uprising” every few generations among the community.   Because we’re reading the POV of characters who are born and raised completely within this environment and know no other life, we as readers are outsiders with privileged information that have to struggle to understand where the characters are coming from (which is a good thing).  For instance, the characters only know of most animals because of pictures in children’s books, but most think they’re just fairy tales drawn up by artists instead of the reality we do know.

The change of character POV between installments is jarring, but there certainly is a central plot line going on, and eventually a main protagonist bubbles up to the center of the rising events.  I’m really not into spoilers, but I like how this character — and all the others — are certainly flawed even while trying their best to do the right thing.  The shifts in POV, like they do in George RR Martin’s books, help us to understand motives and aspects of these characters that weren’t easily understandable before.

Anyway, I just wanted to recommend them to you, because the Wool books are great, cheap, and a little bit different:

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9 thoughts on “Woolgathering

  1. Jeremy Stratton January 6, 2012 / 2:21 pm

    This is going to sound stupidly uninformed, but there’s an author who was one of the first(the first?) to go into self-publishing, put his newest, unpublished book up as weekly installments that he read onto a podcast. He gave it out for free and created a fanbase and he still sells successful numbers of this book that is free online. I love new, creative, successful ideas.

  2. bhagpuss January 6, 2012 / 2:59 pm

    I’ve been a compulsive reader since I was five years old. My house is bursting with books and it’s a big house, too. I carry books with me pretty much at all times. I read before i go to work, on the way to work, at work, on the way back from work, when I get home and before I go to bed. If I’m not playing MMOs or writing chances are I’m reading a book. Despite that, I probably don’t buy more than one or two full-price books a year. Cheap, even free, books are everywhere.

    For free books there’s obviously the library, which I’ve had as a second home since I was a very small child. Then there are review copies, which saw me through much of the 1980s. I’ve worked in the book trade for the last decade and half so I have piles and piles of proofs to pick over with new ones arriving every day. (It’s amazing how many books get published that no-one will even take for free even in a building filled with book addicts). Cheap books come from our vast array of charity shops (thrift stores to you), from the bookstall in our local market and from car-boot sales. Average price 25p – £1.

    I usually have a pile of anything up to a dozen waiting to be read. I often have to stop adding to the heap until I wear it down a little. It astounds me how much money people I work with will spend on new books when there’s so much great reading to be had for nothing or next-to-nothing.

  3. Andy January 6, 2012 / 3:02 pm

    OMG Go-Bot love ftw.

  4. Void January 6, 2012 / 10:09 pm

    I just bought it on your recommendation alone. I love cheap Kindle books!

  5. Leelu January 7, 2012 / 1:13 am

    That’s so funny, I bought Wool just last night after having a browse through the store via my Kindle. I loved it, and promptly bought the second one which I’m looking forward to reading tonight. I couldn’t get the images and shock of the plot twist out of my head while I was falling asleep, he’s certainly a great writer!

  6. Michele January 8, 2012 / 6:41 pm

    I came across this post by chance, after reading a Rift guide you wrote. Thanks for the info about Wool. I saw that today he’s offering his Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue for free on Kindle!

  7. ArcherAvatar January 9, 2012 / 3:06 pm

    The Kindle-app for PC had been sitting there unused on my desktop for quite some time until I read this post, and then I remembered a recent frustration with wanting to get ahold of a book that is currently out of print (an old favorite from quite awhile ago) and just for the hell of it I looked to see if there was a kindle version of it available, and sure enough…

    +1 interweb pts awarded to Syp for thoughtful sharing of useful information
    and +3 BONUS pts for seriously good timing!

  8. MFischer January 12, 2012 / 8:10 am

    Thank you for the recommendation on Wool! I read through all four of the books on the weekend and am now eagerly awaiting the fifth one. 🙂

  9. Hugh Howey January 24, 2012 / 12:35 pm

    Wow, thanks for the awesome write-up! I just had a fan message this to me on Facebook. I’m so humbled that WOOL is getting all this attention and is being enjoyed by so many readers.

    Cheers!
    -Hugh

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