Earlier today I finished reading Dust by Hugh Howey. Considering what the Silo Saga and Hugh have meant to my career as an author it seems only fitting that I should devote a post to a spoiler-free reflection on the experience of reading this phenomenal series.
I first read Wool during a family vacation in Hawaii. I was in the middle of writing Atlantic Island at the time, and learning about the process of publishing and promoting work on Amazon from the numerous articles I read about Hugh Howey. It’s so unbelievably rare for me to try a new author’s work, and even more unusual for me to like what I read. I was hooked by Wool right from the start, and fascinated by the slow reveal that took place throughout that book and its sequel, Shift. Hugh managed to depict a markedly different, yet strangely similar world while all the time holding back the secrets of what was truly occurring.
I bought Shift to read on my Kindle on the flight home. I later learned that there was some criticism from readers about Hugh’s decision to reveal the backstory to the events of Wool in the sequel. Personally, I liked Shift even more than Wool. Anyone who knows me (and my unwavering love for Stephen King’s The Stand) knows that I prefer to see a world fall apart rather than jump into it after the damage has already been done. That approach guided me in writing Atlantic Island and it was remarkable to see it handled by a master. As the plot caught up with the timeline of Wool, the stage was set with enormously high expectations for the finale.
In between reading the first two books and excitedly reading the third, I became a part of the Silo Saga world when I wrote Angels of the Earth. Because of that book I came to know a wonderful, supportive, ever-growing group of authors, read several of their Silo works, and befriended Hugh Howey himself.
And so it was that I sat down to read Dust, now being a Silo author and knowing that I was reading the words of a friend and mentor. Could I be brought back into that magnificent, ruined world deep within the earth? Could Hugh tie all his characters and plotlines together? Would it all lead to a satisfactory conclusion?
For three pages, I admit I thought to myself, “this is all too much. I’ve been gone too long, too busy with my own stories and now I don’t even remember what was happening.” By page four, all my worries had evaporated. Hugh Howey is that good. He brings the reader right back into the heart of the action without wasting time explaining what came before. His exposition occurs organically as his characters embark on the final leg of their respective journeys.
Everything in this novel comes together to work like a finely tuned machine that would dazzle the hard-laboring gang down in Mechanical. Hugh continues to reveal his secrets in a way that seems natural and not at all forced. There are no reveals just for the sake of the reveal. I can say without spoiling anything that the plans that made all the devastation possible just seem plausible…plausible enough to give one pause about some of what goes on in the real world.
Hugh’s characters have an amazing amount of depth to them. There are very few men and women in his story who can be seen as “all good” or “all bad.” Hugh finds the levels in between. His characters and his story are so much richer for it. This also lends the trilogy an overarching theme of redemption that works whether it is a character or the world itself that must be redeemed.
As to my third question, did Hugh’s conclusion satisfy me as a reader? Absolutely. I’m sure the ending won’t thrill every single reader, but Stephen King (and many others) once said that a story is about the journey, not the ending. Hugh wraps up his journey in a powerful way while leaving room for journeys to come. Whether Hugh Howey is the tour guide who will take us on that next leg or if he will simply pass the torch to his growing legion of Silo Saga authors, he has more than succeeded in doing his job here. He entertained, dazzled and intrigued through three wonderful books and created a world so elaborate and layered that it is just beginning to be explored. Amazing.