Truth buried along with dreams of a bright fu­ture

Shift

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­orge Wil­liams Ge­orge Wil­liams,

By Hugh Howey Cen­tury, 569pp, $29.95

AMER­I­CAN writer Hugh Howey gained a world­wide fol­low­ing with Wool, an ini­tially self-pub­lished se­ries of fu­tur­is­tic, dystopian novel­las in which the rem­nants of hu­man­ity live in­side gi­ant si­los buried deep in the earth. He has fol­lowed this with the equally im­pres­sive Shift.

Shift is nei­ther a pre­quel nor a se­quel but in part a story told in par­al­lel to Wool. It cer­tainly should be read af­ter Wool, as there is a great deal of as­sumed knowl­edge from that book. In terms of plot, the two books neatly in­ter­sect with­out ever over­lap­ping.

Shift con­tains an elab­o­rate back­story to Wool and re­vis­its key events from dif­fer­ent points of view. It clev­erly an­swers many of the big ques­tions that emerge in Wool. How was the Earth dev­as­tated? How did hu­man­ity come to in­habit gi­ant un­der­ground bunkers? And who is con­trol­ling peo­ple’s lives?

Howey pro­vides the an­swers but is also smart enough to en­sure that, for ev­ery mys­tery solved, a fresh line of in­quiry is opened. By the end of Shift, the ground is well laid for the third work in the se­ries, Dust, due for re­lease later this year.

In Shift, Howey has cre­ated a fresh set of char­ac­ters, or in one case a new per­spec­tive on a mi­nor char­ac­ter from Wool.

The main char­ac­ter is Don­ald Keene, a mem­ber of the US congress who finds his elec­tion to of­fice has come with much more than he ex­pected. He is caught up in an elab­o­rate scheme that makes the wildest con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the US govern­ment seem tame by com­par­i­son.

The story be­gins less than 50 years from to­day and re­volves around ground­break­ing ad­vances in nan­otech­nol­ogy. In ad­di­tion to heal­ing and pro­tect­ing the hu­man body, it seems nan­otech­nol­ogy may prove to be the most po­tent tool of war­fare cre­ated.

Shift is about how peo­ple re­spond to this threat. How far might our lead­ers go to pre­serve a fu­ture for hu­man­ity? When enor­mous power is com­bined with ge­nius and a ruth­less pur­suit of pur­pose, it seems any­thing may be pos­si­ble. In such cir­cum­stances, is it wrong to play God when the al­ter­na­tive does not bear con­sid­er­a­tion? Are any ac­tions out of or­der when the fu­ture of hu­man­ity is at stake?

With is­sues such as th­ese at the fore­front, the book is in­fused with a strong sense of ethics and ques­tions of right and wrong. This makes Don­ald an ideal lead char­ac­ter. He has an in­tu­itive sense of moral­ity, mak­ing him a foil for the grand de­signs of oth­ers. He is no hero, how­ever. Don­ald is flawed and com­pro­mised by his own role in events. He is of­ten weak and sub­servient, and suf­fers from a mild men­tal ill­ness as well as claus­tro­pho­bia.

Howey again dis­plays a knack for cre­at­ing vivid char­ac­ters with im­me­di­ate ap­peal. He in­vests them with a clear sense of iden­tity and pur­pose from the start. The re­sult is en­gag­ing char­ac­ters who are able to drive a fast mov­ing plot. Wool and now Shift are among the best re­cent post-apoc­a­lyp­tic science fic­tion nov­els . This riv­et­ing tale awaits its con­clu­sion.

Hugh Howey

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