On “Wool” by Hugh Howey—and how to avoid alienating readers.

I finished reading Hugh Howey’s novel/series Wool, after reading the hype surrounding the book. The author has been considered something of a golden boy, a success story from the story mines of self-publishing. There is much to admire about the book. The first four sections are extended character studies that move the story forward while leisurely exploring the dystopian/post-apocalyptic worldscape of underground warrens, Ruined Earth and complex secrets. The major characters are older—an old sheriff, an aging mayor—and there are female characters that don’t strictly adhere to action-girl badass/ Mary Sue tropes, which is refreshingly adult. I tweeted about it, and called it a kind of an adult Hunger Games. Derivative of 70s style dystotian fiction (I.e., Logan’s Run, Soylvent Green), Wool managed to breathe life into stale scenarios. The last section of the book picks up speed, and the pace keeps the pages (or page-swipes) turning.
There are some problems, with the book. For instance, some of the world building has logic holes, and like (too) many SF books there is a homogenization of the cast. (No noticeable people of color in the future, eh? And LGBT are invisible or non-existent?) But it’s a promising effort, nevertheless.

Just as I finished the book, Howey’s infamous and unfortunate sexist post hit the twitterverse. A brief rehash—Howey had an encounter with an unpleasant person and in cutting the person down, used gendered insults—referring to the person’s looks and ending with a crude, dude-bro cri de couer.  This misstep didn’t stop me from enjoying the novel. It didn’t anger me. It disappointed me. This is what the situation reminds me of, what I call in shorthand, the Anne Coulter Question.

Anne Coulter is simply the worst—part Atalanta, throwing apples of discord in politics, part living Id of far rightwing ethos. But when people comment on Coulter’s looks, and in particular, the often repeated claim that she might possibly be trans, I think it’s worse. There are so many wonderful ways—as writers, even—that we can put down unpleasant people. As writers of the imagination, with new and novel ways to pinpoint disagreeable people and their beliefs. It is supremely disappointing and, frankly cheap, when we resort to terms like bitch or that’s so gay or I bet she has a dick.
I do recommend the book and look forward to what Howey the fiction-writer brings to the table in future works. I just hope he doesn’t disappoint again with ill-advised blog posts. Don’t alienate your readers.

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