Review of “Shift” and “Dust” by Hugh Howey

Note: There will be some spoilers for Wool, Book One of this saga; some spoilers which are marked and have warnings for Shift, Book Two; but none for Dust, the conclusion of The Silo Series. Avoid all spoilers by skipping down to Discussion and Evaluation.

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Shift and Dust continue the excellent story that begins with Wool (see my review, here). Wool is a [non-YA] post-apocalyptic dystopia about a world in the future in which the population lives in underground silos following nuclear detonations that destroyed the outside world. Originally there were fifty silos, including one “administrative” silo, Number One. Only the residents of Number One and two designated IT Department workers in each other silo know that there are silos in existence beyond their own.

Most of Wool takes place in Silo 18. At the end of Wool, Juliette (“Jules”) Nichols, age 34, had been “banished” from the silo, and managed, improbably, not only to survive the outside, but to make her way to a neighboring silo, #17. There, she gets to know the very small group of inhabitants, and is eager to help them share the resources of Silo 18, to whence she returns. Her boyfriend, Lukas, is now the head of IT at 18, and convinces Jules to become the new mayor. She begins her tenure determined to pull the “wool” from over everyone’s eyes and tell them about the other silos. She also wants to bring her new friends over to Silo 18, if she can figure out a safe way to do so.

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In Shift, we go back in time to 2049 to learn what happened before the silos were built, and how and why they were constructed. We also learn the way in which the silos were run following the devastation of the planet. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Donald Keene, a young Congressman from Georgia who, under the thumb of the elder Senator from Georgia, Paul Thurman, gets pulled into the silo project without fully understanding what it is. But Keene has known Thurman all his life and trusts him; he even used to date Thurman’s daughter Anna. Maybe soon, Donald and his wife Helen keep saying, things will improve. But as Anna, now working with Donald, presciently observes:

“Everyone thinks they’ve got all the time left in the world. … But they never stop to ask just how much time that is.”

Centuries later, in the control silo – Silo 1, Donald is among those who work in six-month “shifts” helping to run the other silos, alternating these periods with long intervals of cryogenic preservation.

Specific Spoilers for Shift:

None of the females who are frozen are supposed to serve on shifts, but Thurman secretly brings his daughter Anna out to use her computer skills to help with a problem. She serves on two consecutive shifts, joined on the second one by Donald. When it is time for them to be put under once again, Donald tries to kill himself by going to the outside, but Thurman brings him back.

In the last part of Shift, it is now 2345, and Donald gets awakened for another shift. But this time, his identity has apparently been switched, and he is taken for Mr. Thurman, the ultimate authority. Donald has no idea how or why this happened, but he takes the opportunity to find out the rest of the secrets about the Silo project. His discoveries all go back to one underlying premise:

“…evil men arose from evil systems, and… any man had the potential to be perverted. Which was why some systems needed to come to an end.”

As Shift concludes, Donald confronts Anna over what he has found out; wakens his sister Charlotte and hides her where Anna had been hiding on the previous shift; and makes contact with Juliette and Lukas in Silo 18.

End of Specific Spoilers for Shift

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In Dust, we return to the world of Silo 18. Jules is still serving as mayor, but spends most of her time trying to reach her friends in Silo 17. There is a lot of grumbling about her iconoclastic activities, and a conservative and cult-like religious movement is gaining adherents.

The action alternates with what is taking place in Silo 1, from whence control of the other silos emanates. Donald is still masquerading as Thurman, and is also now in regular surreptitious contact with Juliette and Lukas over at Silo 18.

The situation at both silos is deteriorating. Donald is apparently dying, but he doesn’t understand why. Thurman is awakened and is very, very angry. There have been three mysterious murders in Silo 1. The denizens of Silo 18 finally dig through to Silo 17 just before Silo 18 gets terminated by Thurman. Chaos, anarchy, and violence ensue. Donald surmises:

“Heroes didn’t win. The heroes were whoever happened to win. History told their story – the dead didn’t say a word.”

Discussion: The story told in these books is all the more frightening and depressing for seeming so realistic. The ending is not as bleak as my review might imply, but rather, it is probably better than one might have hoped. But it’s not irrationally better; it respects the history of human nature, with both its good and bad points.

Evaluation: In many ways this is very intelligent writing. The stories have a solid premise, stick to realism, and focus on character building and both the limitations and promise of humanity rather than on any “futuristic” gadgetry. I loved it (even while walking hunched over at times from despair). I know it is not a story I will soon forget.

Rating: Shift (middle book): 3.5/5
Dust (conclusion): 4/5

Both books published by Century Publishing Co Ltd, 2013

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5 Responses to Review of “Shift” and “Dust” by Hugh Howey

  1. Beth F says:

    Wow you really race through these. I need to add them to my list.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I meant to pick up Wool the last time I was in Fiction Addiction. You’ve made this series sound so good.

  3. Duffy Gal says:

    I have the first installment Wool, on my kindle. I’m curious about it and originally downloaded it because I was going to partake in a fantasy/sci fi challenge that I didn’t get to do. Thanks for your review and for warning of spoilers..I skipped through it quickly to avoid them 🙂

  4. sandynawrot says:

    Oooh yeah, so this is exciting. I did buy Wool on the discount table a week or so ago at B&N, so it is officially in the pile.

  5. litandlife says:

    Sounds like this will really stick with you; always a good thing!

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