First Shift by Hugh Howey

(2012-06-05)

First Shift by Hugh Howey

Self-Published, April 2012

Review by N.E. White.

The sixth installment to continue Hugh Howey’s WOOL series is a great background, filler story.

I know, for those of you who have read the Wool stories and loved them, that may seem like a letdown – filler. Sounds like something you can skip, huh? But, though First Shift simply tells us about how the silo story begins, Mr. Howey manages to do so in a unique way.

The reader is introduced to two protagonists: Donald, a new Congressional Representative taken in by the seniority and power of a U.S. Senator (Senator Thurman), and Troy, a befuddled IT department head that struggles to forget when all he wants to do is remember.

By the end of First Shift all the reader is left with is the burning desire to know what Senator Thurman really has in store for the people of the silos. One thing we can be sure of, it ain’t gonna be pretty.Senator Thurman is a hard man, but he’s out to save the world. And, as any good megalomaniac knows, to save it, you must destroy it.

But not everyone, of course. He aims to save those he deems worthy and to do so he puts Donald and several other low-level latch-keys to work on a project for him; an underground project that includes the silos readers have come to love in Howey’s WOOL series. Throughout Donald’s story in First Shift, we are reminded again that not all is what it seems.

During the planning and construction phase of the silos, Donald is partnered with a woman, Anna, he dated before marrying his wife. Anna happens to be the senator’s daughter, and we get a sense that she’s not really interested in Donald. Though he is inexplicably drawn to his former girlfriend, Donald remains loyal to his wife and minimizes the contact between himself and his former girlfriend. Though told in snippets, we begin to see a deep bond between Donald and his wife. A bond that isn’t necessarily romantic, but strong and enduring.

In the future, Troy struggles through his first shift on duty as the IT head. Not the IT head of one silo, but all of them. The pills he takes to keep him sane (and forgetful) lose their grip. After a riot destroys one of the 50 silos, Troy stops taking the pills and begins to piece together what the Senator’s daughter really had in mind for him. And in the end, the reader begins to wonder if we really know what Senator Thurman has in mind for the silo’s population.

Though Donald and Troy are not as likable as Wool 1′s Holsten or Wool 2-5′s Jules, they are relatable. I so very much wanted them to see beyond their own needs and view the big picture. But like us, they struggle to please those they think they should and not think for themselves. I can only hope that Donald can redeem himself in the next installment.

So, is this filler? Can you skip this installment and just wait for the next that will hopefully get us back to where the author left off at the end of WOOL 5? Yes and no. There are details in this book that will explain some of the odd behavior in the WOOL series, but there’s nothing crucial. You could skip it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Mr. Howey has a way of exposing the human soul in all his characters and he does so in First Shift. Yes, there’s a twist, but it’s not done to shock, but rather used to draw the reader closer to the men at the center of this story. I would recommend reading First Shift simply for that.

There has been some criticism about a few details in First Shift. The first is a technicality in regards to the secret service attendance on Senator Thurman. It’s been noted that only Presidents get that treatment. However, it can be argued that in terms of the world built in First Shift, where Senator Thurman seems to hold a vast amount of power, he, specifically, would likely warrant that amount of secret service treatment. To be honest, if someone hadn’t mentioned, I don’t think I would have noticed it.

Another issue that pushed my buttons was the fact that all the women in the first silo were held in deep freeze while men cared for them and the other populations in the adjacent silos (presumably until it was safe to go outside). It didn’t quite make sense, but then again, we don’t know the full story yet. I suspect that Senator Thurman has a very good reason for keeping them (and us) in the dark.

Given those small misgivings, I still highly recommend First Shift to those who have been reading his series. Mr. Howey continues his character-driven high-emotion style of writing in this installment and he doesn't fail to entertain.

N.E. White, June 2012.

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