Monday, February 4, 2013

Hugh Howey's THIRD SHIFT: PACT #OneBookAtATime

My anguish-filled love for Hugh Howey's Silo series, aka the Wool series, is pretty well established by now. One of these days, I'm going to have to read his other work, most of which I have acquired in various Kindle-stuffing sprees, but just when my gaze starts straying toward those, Howey spins out more of these fibers and I get all tangled up again.

Yeah, I went there. What? He started it. All that talk of strands and skeins... knitting and weaving, knotting -- and unraveling.

With Third Shift: Pact, Howey has sort of completed his Wool prequel trilogy, Shift, but has also, and more importantly, proven that he deserved every howled expletive I've hurled at him through these eight gut-wrenching tales of his. As in "most heartless bastard since Julian 'Downton Abbey' Fellowes" type expletives. And others.

He's also proven once again, as if he needed to, that he's a consummate pro who absolutely and without question deserves to be called a great damned storyteller.

I wasn't sure if I could expect the kind of neat knitting of Shift to Wool that Howey pulled off here; after all, First Shift: Legacy is set a few hundred years before* the first Wool story, and proceeded at a naturalistic pace, and Second Shift: Order followed this same pattern. Howey could just as easily have kept the two narratives completely discrete and still achieved great things with this series.

But that's not what he did!

Of course, in doing so, he also pulled a Feast for Crows on us (though, thank Bob, we did not have to wait years and years and years for more story), but went George R.R. Martin one crueler, in a way because where Martin just yoinked a bunch of fan favorites right out of AFfC and made us wait another mumble-grumble years, Howey spent the whole of Third Shift teasing us mercilessly** with the prospect of reunion with/continuation of the story of a much beloved character from the original Wool series, and then, like Lucy with her football even more than like GRRM with his dragons, yoinked at the last minute to watch us land with a thud at his feet.

It's definitely a testament to Howey's skill that Third Shift still winds up being a very satisfying read despite this authorial cruelty. Of course a lot of this is because he found so many other ways to put the emotional screws to the reader, such as a Robinson Crusoe-esque tale of a young sole survivor of a silo gone wrong, growing up and going crazy in the ruins of the artificial world the Shift crew created to allow humanity to survive an apocalypse -- a post-apocalyptic post-apocalypse, if you will. And, of course, the continuing saga of Donald, unwitting original architect of the project, and his "shifts" overseeing the whole silo project between long spells in the freezer, suffering a long slow torture of guilt and forgetfulness and discovery of just how utterly he was duped. A passage in which he recalls a visit to Washington, D.C.'s Holocaust Museum and freaks out at the internment camp blueprints is especially poignant and effective, if perhaps a little bit too on the nose.

But as you might have guessed, it all ends on a cliffhanger (which Howey himself mocks in a quick aside at the end that challenges the reader to just skip the epilogue. As if), which sets up the next Silo book, to be released soon, Dust.

Thank goodness Howey understands what "soon" means.*** The blogger says, channeling Veruca Salt...

*That "few" is key, because we don't know, reading First Shift, just how far into the past we're going. That it's the origins of the Silo world becomes immediately clear, but what is the gulf of time between the narratives? With the First Shift perps going into cryonic storage, any duration is possible.

**You who have read this novella already know exactly what I'm talking about. How many times did you all but stand up and cheer that [redacted] was on the scene only to find out that, nope, Hugh had fooled us again? Me? Three times. Ooh.

***I kid. Mostly. I do love that he was up front with his fans about a very, very slight delay in publishing Third Shift, because he saw an opportunity to make it a better book and wanted to get it right. The reaction that announcement, from what I saw, was positive -- it would be worth the wait. And it absolutely was. But, Mr. Howey, if you're reading this, and I bet you will, if teasing us with [redacted] so much was the improvement you made while we waited, well, you're not a very nice man.

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