Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A riveting conclusion to an epic fight for survival in Dust

From The Week of March 3, 2014

For all of society's many virtues, for all that it is the mechanism by which civilization is thrust onward, it would grind to a halt without our lies to lubricate it. From secret projects to marital harmony, lies arm us with the means to avoid awkward confrontations with the truth that might tear apart our missions and our relationships, diverting what would otherwise be deathly blows into glancing hits that are soon abandoned to the trash heap that is our past. But while lies may normalize what could otherwise sunder us, they carry with them a terrible price. For each time they are used in the name of the good, they chip away at the trust of those we use them on until, eventually, their faith has been rubbled, leaving only anger stoked by being played the fool. Rarely has this rageful backlash been deployed better than in the conclusion to Hugh Howey's creepy and gripping series.

For the men and women of the Silos, the world is steel and stone. Having lived and died for centuries within 50 hermetically sealed arcologies, built 130-stories deep in the earth of a ruined world, they have no concept of Africa and America, of lions and monkeys, of snow and sun. After all, it is death to leave the silo, death to go out to the decayed remnants of what came before. And anyway, they have within their silos everything they could ever want: power, food, life and love. What could anyone else ask for?

But now, after centuries, the lies that have underpinned their lives are slowly being revealed, peeled back like layers of sediment to expose the whys and hows that lead them into these sealed lives, these stale existences proscribed by another's power. But rather than finding truths that will set them free, the people of the silos find only the ugliness of a plan so vile, so pervasive, that they will never be the same, knowledge so pernicious that it will spark a revolution that no one, not even the great men who set this scheme into motion, could have planned for. The result of this war will shape the world for millennia to come.

A worthy conclusion to one of the most successful pieces of terrifying science fiction ever penned, Dust is a work of beautiful dystopia. Eschewing the gory horror of the many previous works that have flirted with SciFi, and its nearly infinite capacity to imagine new and twisted worlds, Mr. Howey has brought to life a creepily, self-contained world, married it with a truly horrific premise and watched as his dark creation spawned stories to freeze the blood. Repeatedly, the reader is forced to look on helplessly as the people of the silos are battered by an enemy unfathomable to them, an omnipotent, controlling entity for which they have no analogue. Their collapse before its superior weapons and its mysterious knowledge is as inevitable as it is tragic, an all-too-familiar outcome when the strong clash with the weak.

And yet, where in past works the silos have lacked the tools to fight back, here, in Wool's endgame, the lies are seen for what they are. Precious knowledge that, hoarded for so long by the silos' overlords, has trickled out until the resourceful have glimpsed some measure of their master plan and used that knowledge to make, for the first time, plans of their own, to seize their autonomy, to realize that the truth actually can set them free. All of which would have been empty without Wool's previous works in which readers watched the silos bend under the weight of ignorance until it seemed as though they might all break and leave the world without hope. But with such a foundation in place, their outrage, their keen hunger for revenge, puts a fire in these pages that no criticism can douse, that no convenient turn of plot can reduce, that no force of the old world can stop. And it is a privilege to watch it all unfold.

Dust is not a revolution. Quite the contrary. It draws upon many established tropes to craft its tale. But where Mr. Howey supersedes those who've come before him is in the sheer terror he can instill in his environments. The doom, the claustrophobia, of the silos leaves the reader yearning for sunlight, for open spaces, for the world he knows. It leaves him wondering who will be the next character to fall in a war he can't possibly relate to. And in this, the author shows us the true power of knowledge. There are no clever villains spitting pithy lines about how knowledge is power. He doesn't need them. This truth scores every page and leaves no doubt that, short of the suns that give us life, knowledge has no peer.

For anyone remotely interested in scares and society, in prisons of the mind and the burdens of the heart, Wool is the bible you've been waiting for. Read it and its wonderful conclusion and thrill to literature done with style and cold steel. (5/5 Stars)

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