Hugh Howey has become something of a publishing phenomenon. His self-published five book Wool series has become an online phenomenon and the movie right shave been picked up by none other than the mighty Ridley Scott. Howey has returned to the well once more with Shift, a prequel to his science fiction series.
The Wool series is set in a post apocalyptic tale of an earth where civilisation resides in several underground silos, unaware of the secrets that surround them – think The Matrix meets THX-1138. Shift is a prequel novel which deals with the creation of the silos, as well as a split narrative which details events taking place in a silo in the future.
I came into the Wool series, with no prior knowledge, so Shift is a good way to start, although I’m not quite sure where it fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s a well written book with some good ideas and this book came across as fresh, no easy feat considering it’s the sixth instalment in the series. The ever-so-popular split narrative device is used well here. However, I found the story set in the ‘present’ the most entertaining, while the ‘future’ sequences had a much better literary style. This makes me think that Howey was more engaged with the prequel narrative, but that he may be out of his comfort zone with a more contemporary setting. His skill is clearly writing with a stark minimalist tone, a bleak crispness that fits this futuristic world.
Science Fiction is a difficult genre to write. Too much cliché and inspiration from other stories can make it seem cheap and tawdry. Ironically, it’s difficult to find true originality in sci-fi, a genre where the only limit is an author’s imagination. Howey nearly manages it, but there’s a little too much here that seems vaguely familiar –which is a major theme that runs through Shift.
Hugh Howey has a strong writing style and a clear vision, and Shift is a solid and detailed science fiction novel. It gets more right than it gets wrong and there’s enough here to make this hefty book a worthwhile read.