book reviews by Althea

Shift – Hugh Howey ****

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Read this follow-up to “Wool” for post-apocalyptic book club.

‘Shift’ contains three parts, ‘Legacy,’ ‘Order,’ and ‘Pact.’ Each is also available as a separate publication, but I recommend the omnibus edition. I also recommend reading ‘Wool’ first, even though the events here precede it chronologically. If you’ve read ‘Wool’ you know the scenario: survivors of a mysterious apocalypse living in massive underground silos, struggling to survive in the face of social oppression, dwindling resources and mechanical decay. In ‘Shift,’ we get to find out how it all happened.

‘First Shift – Legacy’ shifts (haha) between two perspectives. In the near future, junior politician Donald (an unfortunately distracting choice of character name – who would’ve guessed?) is tasked by his mentor with work on a secret project. Donald was an architect before he went into politics, and Senator Thurman wants him to design a massive bomb shelter. The job takes him away from the side of his wife, and puts him into uncomfortable proximity to his college ex- (Thurman’s daughter) – but he can’t say no, as Thurman was responsible for getting Donald elected.
This story is intercut with a glimpse into the future world of the Silos. In Silo One, “Troy” awakes and is given the job of IT Supervisor. Troy is oddly unable to remember many things about his past, but he knows the scenario: the men of Silo One are responsible for overseeing all 50 silos. They wake for shifts of work, and after a few months, return to cryosleep. The situation is psychologically draining, and not everyone can hack it…
Of course, the reader knows that the two narratives must be connected, but it’s a pleasure waiting for the pieces to match up.

‘Second Shift’ also features two linked narratives. In one, we continue the drama in Silo One, between Donald, Senator Thurman, and his daughter, Anna, as Donald is awoken from cryosleep for his ‘second shift.’ In the other narrative, the action takes place in Silo 18, where we meet a young porter called Mission, who has never known any other world but that of his silo. The only inkling he and his contemporaries have had that things might once have been different are the stories of an elderly teacher, who tells fantastic tales – tales that seem unlikely, but at the same time, are sufficient to sow the seeds of discontent. And the society of Silo 18 may be increasingly unstable…

‘Third Shift’ – two more stories. Due to an error (or is it?) when Donald is awoken for his third shift, he is mistaken for Senator Thurman. As long as no one finds out; he’ll stay in charge of the whole shebang. Will this give Donald a chance to redeem himself for his part in the destruction of the world? Or will he continue to make yet more mistakes and stupid decisions?
In the second story, we go back and explore the ‘origin story’ of the character of Jimmy/Solo, who will be familiar to readers of ‘Wool.’ Let’s just say that when you’re a nerdy kid whose survival depends on hiding from and if necessary, shooting every other survivor you encounter, cause they’re all out to kill you, the psychological result is not ideal.

Because Jimmy’s story relies on the linkage back to ‘Wool,’ on its own, it might be the weakest of the three. And, to a degree, I did feel that ‘Shift’ was written as an afterthought, and in response to the runaway popularity of ‘Wool.’ Some of the ideas seem a bit reverse-engineered, as far as how everything in the silos works and why decisions were made the way they were. It’s still engagingly written – it’s a long book, but moves along quite quickly, not inviting too much detailed analysis of the nitty-gritty specifics. Overall – not quite as good as ‘Wool,’ but it still squeaks up to 4 stars, for me. 


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