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I absolutely loved “Wool”, the first book / omnibus in this story series. “Shift” is a great follow-up to “Wool” for a multitude of reasons, and Hugh Howey approaches the story with his signature mix of metaphorically rich narrative. He has seemed to tone back the descriptions and the more poetic nature of his story a bit, but it’s still a perfect balance of symbolism woven mystery drama built on a captivating post-apocalyptic tale. All that said, however, there are some short-comings to this second installment, though not necessarily enough to warrant the loss of a star.
—- WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “WOOL“, THE 1ST BOOK, FOLLOW —-
In “Wool” the story centered almost entirely around the events at Silo 18, and then later, Silo 17. Towards the end of the book, it was insinuated that there was a central, controlling headquarters of sorts for all of the Silos. In “Shift”, we find out that, appropriately, it is another Silo known as Silo 1. The story in “Shift” occurs in 3 sets of two halves each. In the first third or so of the book, the story hinges back and forth from “the past” (which is 2039 or thereabouts) and “present day” (in the context of this story, which starts at around 2330 or so).
This part of the book is excellent, as it follows two different characters, one involved with the original design and implementation of the Silo project, and the other involved with the current oversight of the Silos, post-apocalypse. While the story could have easily devolved into a paint-by-numbers obligatory long-form exposition, the past-era sequences are compelling on their own, as they’re fully developed with their own characters and climate, but also add, in bits and pieces, context for the events of Howey’s Silo-centric world. And the present day sequences are excellent as a way to see past the veil created in “Wool” … and brings a surprising amount of humanity to what was assumed to be a group of complete sociopaths.
The next third of the book swings back and forth between two different “present days” (although now in the future relative to before … you have to read it for it to make sense), where we see events from the previous Silo 1 character’s perspective, but also from a young man at one of the many other silos in existence. This part of the book is pretty good as well, but ultimately feels a bit empty and unsatisfactory relevant to the first and last thirds of the book. Also, there’s a certain plot point from this part that never really gets answered …
The final third of the book hinges back and forth from “present day” Silo 1 (now further, again, into the future) and a character known as “Jimmy Parker” in the past. It took me awhile to remember who this “Jimmy” was from “Wool”, but once I did, this part of “Shift” provides some excellent context to events at Silo 17 and what occurred there. These sequences are also, of course, very poignant and at times, damn near soul-crushing.
Overall, this was an excellent book. Hugh Howey knows how to weave a very compelling narrative through a mix of mystery, style, symbolism, and characterization. And while quite a few Silo Series level questions up to this point were answered, making this book feel like a (more or less) complete story on its own, he tactfully left a number of major plot points unresolved, drawing you forward into the next book. And of course, while it wasn’t really a cliff hanger or anything, Howey ends this book on a very nice tie-in from “Wool”, giving a hint on where the next book might go.
Only a couple of things I didn’t like: first, the narrative in this book, even after considering the clever time-period and character perspective switching, is a bit jarring. At times, it’s a bit hard to follow, but Howey did his best to mitigate this as much as possible with clear references at the start of each chapter, and time / location stamps. Also, the narrative in this story tends to swing a little harder between “extremely clever and smooth flowing” to “somewhat repetitive and dull”. There were sections in this book where I found myself growing bored or detached, but they were few and far between.
Finally, there are certain plot elements that don’t make sense here. Like flies, for instance … how and why are flies inside of the silos? Or cats? Or rats? This isn’t the 17th Century, where you have a big wooden boat that just about anyone and anything could get on. This is a military grade bunker that was tightly created, controlled, and manipulated from the beginning … and almost everything was vacuum sealed for storage. The only way flies could have gotten inside these things was if someone let them in … but then why? And again, I find myself cringing in a strain of disbelief about certain machines or automated processes surviving decades, even centuries, without human maintenance. I mean, LEDs are fantastic, but even they are only rated for 25 years …