Hugh Howey Is A Gracious Man – A Brief Interview

Following my review earlier today of Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, I sent him a note letting him know I had posted it (this was really his idea — he encourages his readers to review his books and get in touch with him, so I had no choice).  He sent me a nice note back, thanking me for the comparison of Wool to Ayn Rand’s Anthem and feeling honored to be, in my review, in the company of that book and Rush’s 2112.  I asked if I could post his response, and he said sure but that he’d also be happy to give a more structured response or answer a few questions.  So here are my “oh my god I have to come up with questions for Hugh Howey” questions and his thoughtful responses.  Hugh Howey is indeed a gracious man.

You’ve told me that you’re a fan of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Rush.  Do you have a favorite Rush record? What are some other musical and literary favorites?
My favorite overall album is Moving Pictures, and I think that’s because of my age. My older brother got into their music, and I wanted to be as cool as he was. I remember hearing those drum solos go on forever and thinking to myself that these guys must not be interested in being on the radio at all, and that made them even cooler. In a way, I think Rush became commercial without trying to. And that appeals to me. Wool was written and published in a way that never should’ve led to commercial success.
 
Anthem is one of the grandaddies of post apocalyptic fiction. It gets left out of many discussions because of the controversial life and philosophy of its author, but I think art deserves to be critiqued independent of the artist. I didn’t think about the underground nature of Anthem until you mentioned it, but now I want to go back and read it again.
In the world of the Silo,information technology and mechanical technology play a huge role, and are described in very readable detail without killing the narrative.  Can you describe how you approached your description of these technologies in Wool?
I don’t enjoy science fiction when it gets bogged down in the details of how things work. The great thing about end-of-the-world stories is that the technology is often less advanced than what we have today. That allows the characters to stand in the foreground, which is what draws readers in. My approach is twofold, really: I respect the reader’s intelligence to figure things out as they go, rather than blast them with info dumps. And I don’t have characters marvel over aspects of their own worlds that really ought to be banal to them. Science fiction can do this sometimes: characters appear to be wowed over things that are everyday. That always feels jarring to me.
When you wrote the first novella, did you have an idea of how Wool 5 would end?
Not at all. It was just the one story. But when I set out to write Wool 2, I sketched out the entire saga, which includes the SHIFT and DUST books. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of Lost, where the creator has no idea what’s going on, and the reader/viewer can begin to sense this. I wanted to foreshadow events miles in advance. 
There are elements of wool that seem particularly well-suited for dramatic interpretation.  Are we going to see a movie of Wool?
I hope so! Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian optioned the film rights. The screenplay is in the pipeline right now. I’d say the odds are 1 in 10 that a film gets made, which is pretty damn good by Hollywood standards! 
What are you currently writing, and how can we keep up with it?
I’m working on the end of the SHIFT series. After that, I’ll start the third and final act, DUST, which is where things really go to hell. My website is a good place to keep up with my writing. I even keep my word count updated, so you can see how far along I am in any draft. I try to think of the things I wish my favorite authors would do, and then I do them. Just makes sense to approach things that way.
 
Best,
Hugh 

Hugh Howey’s Wool

ImageI just finished my Christmas reading, Hugh Howey’s Wool Omnibus, having bought it on special for $1.99 (for my Kindle) based on one of those Amazon emails:  “CBreaden, here are books we think you might enjoy!”  Always a leap of faith, going with this kind of marketing, but in a heat-haze brought on by recently finishing Joe Abercrombie’s Heroes and having nothing at hand I wanted to read, I took that leap.

About halfway through the collection of five novellas, I realized I needed to alert the prog world to it, thus uncovering my not-so-hidden geek love (limited as it may be) for sci-fi and prog rock’s connection to it.  I think like a lot of us I first fell under this spell with Rush’s 2112, which I didn’t hear until several years after its release but, when I did, quickly turned to Ayn Rand’s Anthem for the text on which Neil Peart based some of his story.  Rand’s most succinct novel, and to me her most powerful, coupled with Rush’s record, raised a fairly high bar.  Alternate worlds are frequently the stuff of prog, but only on occasion are they expertly wrought in song.

Wool immediately struck me as one successor to Rand’s Anthem, but with a less severe political bent, characters more like the regular people you and I know, and little reliance on metaphor.  What it has in common is a lean narrative and concise style, although the five novellas collected together in the omnibus are far longer than Anthem.  The similarities don’t end there:  like Anthem, Wool has at its center a people being kept from the truth.  It tells the story from the perspective of several characters among a large population who have for hundreds of years inhabited an underground “silo,” which as readers we understand to be an enormously deep, hugely broad, completely self-sufficient bomb shelter.  The only connection to the world beyond the silo is a series of screens that project images of the outside.  These images are produced by cameras mounted to the exterior above-ground portion of the silo, the lenses of which need regular cleaning due to the howling nuclear-desolate wastewinds whipping the landscape.  This task is given to individuals who commit crimes in the silo, which include having dangerous ideas like wanting to know what the outside is like or how we came to be in this blasted silo anyhow.  Okay, so maybe there is some metaphor.

What strikes me about Wool and Anthem, and the reason I bring Wool to Progarchy with a big recommendation to read it, is the imagination of an alternate world, not just by the author, but by his characters.  What happened outside the silo? What are our origins? Is what we see on the screens real? (Plato, anyone?) Howey’s characters are not unsubtle, one-dimensional creatures.  They struggle with these questions with both trepidation and reluctance for committing a crime, and for the mind-bending possibility embedded in “what if?”  This also strikes me as core to the experimentation necessary to successful, progressive music.

– Craig Breaden, December 27, 2012

P.S. Howey has been writing like a madman.  Initially, he self-marketed Wool, beginning in late 2011, almost entirely as an e-book on Amazon.  He’s now been picked up by print publishers, but continues to offer his books online for cheap.  He’s already two volumes in to the prequel to Wool.  Check his site here: http://www.hughhowey.com/. Buy his books here: http://www.amazon.com/Hugh-Howey/e/B002RX4S5Q/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1