Truth buried along with dreams of a bright future
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.