First Shift by Hugh Howey Shift by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey Shift SILO book #2 fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEditor’s Note: Shift is an omnibus containing three separate stories that together are considered the second book in Hugh Howey’s SILO series after Wool (which originally had 5 parts): “First Shift,” “Second Shift,” and “Third Shift.” When Ruth reviewed Shift, “Third Shift” had not yet been published. Kat mentions “Third Shift” in her review below.

Shift is the second book in the SILO series by Hugh Howey, and is actually a prequel. If you have read Wool, you know that humanity has retreated to a meticulously planned underground silo to escape the radiation and toxin ravaged outside world. Since this is set on Earth, one must ask oneself, how did this happen? I mean, underground silos with the technology to support life for hundreds of years don’t just happen, they have to be planned. So, how do you plan something like this? Well, you’re about to find out.

Set in the near future, “First Shift” tells two intertwined stories. The first is the story of a new United States Congressman, Donald, who is asked to work on a government project to store nuclear waste. Because of his architectural training, he is the perfect person for this job because he has the skills and the necessary top secret clearance. The second story is told from the point of view of Troy. Troy is an IT supervisor and is woken up from cryofreeze to work his first shift in the silo. We discover that the workers in the silo are all men. Their wives and children have been stored in cryosleep to keep from providing distractions. The male workers take it in turns to work in shifts of time where they are awake and then go back to cryosleep. These periods of wakefulness last weeks or months at a time, and were designed to guarantee that there would be sufficient trained staff to oversee the period of transition from a society used to living above ground to one underground. Troy starts having odd memories though, and as he starts trying to discover the source of the flashbacks, he realizes things are not as they seem.

One of the problems with prequels is that you already know a general picture of how things end up. Especially when told with a story that already has people living successfully in the silo, you know they end up in the silo. So, there isn’t as much dramatic tension throughout the story as in the original books, but the ending makes up for it. It will leave you in slack-jawed incredulity laced through with an absolute conviction of the utter correctness of the action to the characters. You just don’t expect to see someone actually play out their political philosophy to the logical conclusion. Howey excels at wrapping important political questions in lots of action and interesting — and at times Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now levels of creepy — characters.

Howey does a good job of letting this book serve not only as a prequel to the book, but letting it answer questions that arise out of the original omnibus. At times this is not handled as well as I could have hoped, as it sometimes comes off a little exposition heavy. As an aside — after reading the original series, I actually sat down and did the math to calculate the depth of the silo based off of various data points you get in the five books. I then posted this information on the author’s fan forum and asked what was wrong with the math because the answer I got seemed a bit ludicrous. Not only did other fans weigh in with their suppositions, Howey posted with the correct answer. Howey is one of the indie publishing success stories, and maybe because of that he seems to have a very strong connection to his fans, so at times I felt like he was trying to answer some of the questions that his more diehard fans had in a more public setting. But, there are also spoilery reasons for why he is doing some of this exposition that makes it necessary for where I think he is going in the next book. Oh yes, there is going to be a next book. And if what I think it is about is actually going to be what it is about, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

In “Second Shift”, we learn more of the details of how this society descended into its post-apocalyptic world. The story recounts the tale of an impending uprising in Silo 18. The action is recounted through two different characters. The first is Mission, a young porter in Silo 18, and the second is Donald, and IT supervisor in Silo 1, the main administrative silo. Between the two of them, you see both the personal and impersonal views of what a revolution means, how it starts, is maintained, and possibly succeeds or fails.

Howey is doing something that I think is fairly unusual in dystopian literature; he is taking time to fully explain how the apocalypse came about and how a society can be transitioned from an individualistic to a community-oriented one. There is a fairly sophisticated argument being worked out in the story regarding contemporary issues such as preventative war, human rights, individual liberties, and the tradeoff between security and freedom. There is also an even more important subtext about the role of secrecy in governing, both in regards to keeping secrets from the citizens en masse, and keeping secrets from other leaders, and possibly even from yourself.Hugh Howey Silo Saga: Wool, Shift, Dust

Dystopia literature as a genre isn’t full of fluffy bunnies and rainbows, but there is something about focusing on the descent into autocracy, rather than the fight against it, that adds an extra level of somberness to the proceedings. Making the motivations of the antagonists clear and understandable adds a level of complexity to the story — these aren’t just mustache-twirling caricatures, but recognizable humans with plausible motivations.

I recommend this latest installment in the SILO series which serves as a prequel to the original WOOL omnibus.

~Ruth Arnell

First Shift by Hugh Howey Since Ruth reviewed Shift before the story “Third Shift” had been added to the volume, I’ll mention that this last section of the book is particularly interesting because it takes place concurrently with events in Wool. Donald is woken up for his third shift in Silo 1 because, again, Silo 18 is causing problems (these are the problems we learned about in Wool when we, at first, didn’t realize Silo 18 was being watched). Intertwined with this story is the backstory of Jimmy in Silo 17 (which takes place a few decades before the events of Wool and “Third Shift,” but will be very important to readers of Wool).

When Donald is awakened, he  notices immediately that the power structure in Silo 1 has changed and he has unexpectedly been given more agency. Thus, he sets out to try to answer all the questions he’s had about what the silos are for, what happened to his wife and sister, what happened to the senator who’s supposed to be in charge, what was his ex-girlfriend’s role in events, what are the plans for the future, etc. His discoveries are quite upsetting. Meanwhile, he’s supposed to solve the problem with Silo 18. This last section of Shift is more exciting than the previous sections.

I’ve been reading the nice audio editions by Audible Studios, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds. I’m not certain that these are still available because there are now newer editions published by Blackstone Audio.

~Kat Hooper

NOW A SERIES ON APPLE TV+. In this second volume in the New York Times best-selling Silo series, Hugh Howey describes the catastrophic events that led to the creation of the silo— and the beginning of the end. In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. The technology has an almost limitless capacity for good—but in the wrong hands, it could have an equally boundless capacity for evil. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall, and the ability to forget it ever happened. With this godlike power at their fingertips, can humanity be trusted to create a new—and better—world? Or is it doomed to bring about its own destruction?



  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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