Last week I wrote about how some stories are better on the page than the screen and that some novels should not be adapted, today I come to you with a book that is crying out to be adapted. Wool by Hugh Howey. Given the quote from the Sunday times on the cover “The Next Hunger Games” I think it is only a matter of time. A well known online encyclopaedia suggests the film rights have been purchased by 20th Century Fox “with director Ridley Scott and [Screenwriter] Steve Zaillian expressing interest”. The book started life as a short story, self published on through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. It proved so popular that Howey begun adding to it until it became Wool, a five hundred page novel. A prequel Shift was published earlier this year and a sequel Dust is expected at the end of the year.
Set in what appears to post-apocalyptic (listeners to “wittertainment” will know that post-apocalyptic is an oxymoron, but it is an accepted term in popular culture so I am sticking with it) where people live in a giant silo berried deep in the ground. They are told that the outside world is uninhabitable as the land is ruined and the atmosphere is toxic. Most people take this as gospel, those that don’t believe keep their thoughts to themselves as it is a crime to question this and to express a wish to go outside and find out. Those that do are sent “cleaning”, sent through an airlock to clean the sensors that give the silo its only view of the outside world. Shortly after cleaning the exiles die, seemingly killed by the inhospitable outdoors, thus keeping people inside and satisfied for a little longer. The story starts with the silo sheriff, Holston volunteering for cleaning, for reasons that are explained in flashback. This leads the silo needing a new sheriff, the mayor, Jahns and a longstanding deputy sheriff, Marnes (who has refused promotion) travels to the depth of the silo to recruit their favoured candidate, Juliette. But the honesty and tenacity that got Juliette the job don’t fit well in a world of secrets.
The most important thing about a story set in a dystopian future is that it creates a believable world for its characters to exist in. This is something that Howey does with ease, the silo is explained in perfect detail without getting in the way of the narrative and without huge paragraphs of dull exposition needed. And like all the best movie or literary incarnations of dystopia, everything seems okay on the surface. This isn’t a dystopia where the survivors are battling for survival against the un-dead or a terrible disease, they are just looking for information for the truth. This concept that drives the plot isn’t new, think Soylent Green (1973), Logan’s Run (1976) or even George Orwell’s novel 1984 where beyond the plot the characters motivation is to find the truth. Sometimes for the good of society, sometimes to their own determent, often for both.
The characters are well drawn and believable as are their motivations. Like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games (2012), the casting is vital to the success of a movie adaptation. Here are a few suggestions: Andrea Riseborough or Jessica Chastain as Juliette – Tom Hanks as Solo – Brian Cox as Bernard – Helen Mirren or Judi Dench as Jahns. Not sure on Holston or Marnes. Lukas is probably the weakest written character so again unsure on the casting, possibly the most famous age appropriate actor at the time, Ryan Gosling? I look forward to seeing how it translates to the screen, given production times, it will probably be two years before we find out.