Wool is a bit of a phenomenon for a few different reasons. The book started out as a series of short stories sold electronically through Amazon, which became rather popular, enough so that more than one big house publisher wound up offering the author a contract to print it out and sell it. The author then turned down an impressive seven-figure contract for a smaller one in order to retain all the e-rights to the stories. The author's story is a good one all on its own, and it doesn't hurt that the stories he writes are pretty good, too.
In Wool, we learn that in the future, our society lives in an underground silo that’s equipped for all the things that people need to survive — electricity, a water supply, air, food, etc. — and that the ultimate punishment in that society is to be sent out to Clean. Cleaning is basically a death sentence where offenders are sent outside the silo, into the harsh environment that the world has become, where they die, but not before taking the time to scrub clean the screen on the camera that displays the outside world to the inhabitants in the silo. In the first story, we learn that most people sent outside say that they won’t clean the lens, but they always do. We also learn why they always do, which is a chillingly effective method we don’t learn until the end of the story. The remaining stories build off of that one short story, each one giving the reader a larger and longer look at the society in the silo, and what it means to live in such a confined space.
There's a lot in this book that's done very well. Howey does a great job not just with the world (silo?) building in his universe, but also with structuring the way control is maintained over the inhabitants. He takes into account much of what life in a silo would be like, and takes those points to their logical conclusions. The story develops naturally from one point to the next, to the point where removing or moving any part of it would make the whole thing fall apart. The narrative is compelling, and there are some very good observations about human nature buried in the story. It's very well done.
There were a few things in the book that didn't sit well with me. Some of the major turning points in the plot happened very suddenly, almost without a lot of thought put into them. Once you accept how quickly they happen, the rest of the story falls in place behind it, but they can be a little jarring, to say the least. Some of the narrative and dialogue was stilted and overly dramatic, to the point where it felt like Howey was beating me over the head with the point he was trying to make. The levels within the silo reflect the class structure within (those closer to the top are the white-collar types, while the deeper you go, the more blue-collar it gets), which is a nice thematic element, but then the author has to have one of the characters make that observation, just in case we missed it the first time. Plus, the lines drawn between the protagonists and the antagonists were too firmly drawn, to the point where the good guys were too perfect, and the bad guys started feeling like cartoon villains. The story works very well by itself as a cautionary tale, and I wish Howey would have had more faith in his readers to be more subtle with the more important parts of his story.
That's not to say that I won't be finishing the series, though. I've already purchased the next two books in the series, and I'm eager to see how he further develops the tale. A small part of me wonders if I'll be disappointed (I'm not sure if I really need to know the events that led up to creating the silos, or even if I need to know what happens after Wool), but the rest of me is very curious to see what happens next.