Second Shift by Hugh Howey

Second Shift: Order by Hugh Howey

Published December 2012 (Available for Kindle and for other e-readers)

Review by N.E. White.

The seventh installment in Hugh Howey’s WOOL series continues filling in the blanks. Why did Senator Thurman destroy the world? Why are the silos failing one after the other? Who’s really in control? And just when will we get back to Jules?

Lucky for all you dedicated Woolies out there, Mr. Howey does hint about Jules at the end of this book. But, overall, Second Shift is about Donald, our (deservedly so) depressed congressional representative that we were introduced to in First Shift, and a determined character named Mission who navigates through the doomed course of another silo. Through the telling of their stories, Mr. Howey weaves the sinister plot Senator Thurman and his colleagues have set in motion.

Second Shift begins with ‘Deathdays were birthdays.’ Through Mission, a young porter living in Silo 18, we learn how each life in the silos are linked to another. In the confines of the underground silos, one has to pass on, before another can take their place. Mission learned this the hard way. He lost his mother to a cleaning (the act of sending a silo occupant out into the hostile world to clean and subsequently die) the day he was born, because she hid her pregnancy. This fact haunts him throughout this day – his birthday – and leads him to wonder if he deserves the life he has.

And on this day, unbeknownst to Mission, he will play a small part in a ‘reset’ of a silo, a sort of re-birth.

The puppeteers over in Silo 1 have to decide whether to destroy Silo 18’s rebellious population outright – and lose yet another of the 50 silos – or ‘reset’ the silo by minimizing its population and administering memory-blocking drugs. Either decision means the death of more people.

In amongst the growing rebellion in Silo 18, Donald is woken up from his deep-freeze sleep. Unwillingly, he must find out why some folks in the silos are remembering and why they seem to be on a self-destructive path. Through it all, he struggles with the realization of the loss of his wife and a life he could have had with her, and the need to end his own life.

As with all the silo stories, Second Shift is permeated with the overall themes of what is an individual life worth, is there a ‘greater good’, and if so, who has the right to determine what that great good is?

Hugh Howey does a great job of illuminating these themes through the good and bad choices his characters make, and, more importantly, the unknown consequences of those choices. Other than the great writing, and interesting characters, that’s what keeps me coming back to this series: those unintended consequences.

We all think Senator Thurman has a grand plan. Surely, this man who set the world afire is doing something for the survival of the people in those silos, and that in the end, all will be okay.

But what if we are wrong? What if he’s wrong? What happens when the events set in place don’t go as expected or humans do what we inevitably do – adapt?

This is where Mr. Howey’s imagination has lead us to the popular world of the silos, where nothing is as it seems, and this latest addition to the series will not disappoint his fans. With smooth, evocative prose, the author brings us closer to old characters (Donald) and continues to introduce new, relatable characters (Mission and the Crow). Plot threads become clearer, while new ones emerge to tease readers along.

Mr. Howey continues to impress me with his world-building. The relationships built and maintained between the various peoples of the silos (farmers, porters, IT, maintenance, etc.) feel unique and real. I get the sense that this future world can not only be this way, but given these circumstances, would be expected. The language details the author adds only enriches and deepens that sense of reality.

If you are new to the series, Second Shift is not the place to start. Though I think a new reader can enjoy this installment, much would be lost. Start with Wool, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll catch up with the rest of us. The next book, Third Shift, is expected to be released early in 2013.

Either way you come at this series, I highly recommended reading Second Shift.

N.E. White, January 2013.

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