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Wool (Wool, #1)

Wool - Hugh Howey Back in the good old days, which were probably not good, and certainly weren't old yet, the short story was the preeminent form of the science fiction genre. There's a lot of reasons for this. For example, I have as this wacky personal theory that I can't back up that many genres start strongest in their short forms. Take Sherlock Holmes, who pretty definitively starts the genre of the detective story, whose stories have eventually a sort of long form coherence, but each episode is, ahem, episodic.

Science fiction was at its beginnings very short form as well, published in magazines, or in the loose collection like I, Robot, which isn't so much a coherent narrative as a working out of a set of ideas in three related vignettes. Even Asimov's more novel-y novels, like The Foundation Trilogy, read really short form, with questionable characters enacting large societal thought experiments.

For a number of reasons - like the death of magazines in which to publish such a thing - short stories fell off as the central form of the sf/f genre. We're more likely, the publishing world being what it has become - to end up with a planned (or unplanned) trilogy (or open-ended unending series) than a short form exploration of whatever idea. Maybe the idea have become thin. Maybe the world isn't as open as it once was. Maybe the god of the gaps of science and its fiction has narrowed to a point where short form explorations aren't viable anymore. That's all possible. Maybe I'll even write short story about it.

But anyway, point being, here comes Wool, read just after I read another contained little short form science fiction, Day by Day, and I'm beginning to wonder if science fiction isn't coming back to its roots. The short story is much less of a commitment in terms of cash and time, allowing readers to sample a writer's work without falling into the Jordan/Martin/Sanderson/Rothfuss nightmare of hundreds of thousands of pages before payoff, if indeed there is payoff. Not that I'm slagging these writers - and I've only bothered with the one - but long form sf/f is fucking loooong at its longest, and the ability to cut a story with a few short strokes and one into your kidneys, in less than 100 pages, is one I admire.

Per usual, I feel the need to over-explain - the pleasures of long form sf/f are their own, and certain things are impossible to explore in the short form. Bringing this finally down to Wool - I'm writing a review, right? Not just ruminating on genre? - it was neat as hell to see a tight little skiffy situation run out into character and action, a man walking the circular staircase of his silo enclosure to the door to the outside and his inevitable death.

Wool is a pretty masterful situation that turns to story, the main character ruminating on the edges of his existence in a narrow society, the mysteries of societal behavior, and pain of choices made when there really aren't any to make. Wool is about one of those locked in survivor communities hundreds of years from the apocalypse and how they keep themselves safe and continuing, and it's a chase, however though-bound, and then a gut punch. W00t.

I got this free from some Amazon program, and I know for a fact that this is really just the first in a series of short stories that explores the edges of the Wool world. Which makes the new explosion of the short story online somewhat different from the original SFnal short stories. This is bait - come see what else this world will offer - but it is also, to misquote John Dunne, its own bait. As much as I loved this, and I did, the thing I respect about it is how contained it is, how completed in its sparse pages. No one likes coming to the promised end and finding a godamn cliffhanger - though I respect its occasional necessity - which makes me more than likely to continue with this series of short stories. What's up, Wool? What more do you have to give?