Written by: Hugh Howey
Published by: Broad Reach Publishing
Dust is the final installment in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga. The saga started with Wool which introduces us to the world of the silos, or rather worlds, as each silo is a world unto itself. A hundred level silos sunken into the Earth. Each silo is like an interstellar spaceship. It is a self-contained, self-sustaining environment. The only contact with the broken exterior world come from a few outward pointing cameras. In fact the most taboo thought in the world of the silos is to think about leaving. If you think about leaving, no matter if you are the Mayor, Sheriff or Head of IT, you will be sent to clean. A centuries old environment suit will be brought out of storage, refurbished and it’s pockets stuffed with wool pads and cleaning solution and you will be kicked out of the airlock and expected to scrub the grime off the exterior cameras before you asphyxiate when your oxygen runs out, it’s a one way trip.
Wool introduces us to the silos and our heroine Juliette who, when she is sentenced to clean, discovers the truth of why everyone exiled to clean, from the most depraved murderer to a heartbroken widower pulls out their wool pads and scrubs the camera lenses before wandering off to die after their oxygen runs out. Knowing the truth Juliette breaks with tradition and refuses to scrub the camera lenses and uses what oxygen she has to explore and to her amazement find another silo. Shift takes us back to the beginning and how the silos came to be if not exactly why. Dust picks up the strands left dangling from Wool and Shift and weaves them into a most satisfying conclusion.
If you haven’t read Wool or Shift don’t read any further. There are spoilers for the first two books following. Dust starts out with Juliette back in Silo 18 and is the new Mayor, Lucas is Head of IT and Juliette is digging a tunnel to Silo 17 to keep her promise to Solo and the kids. Meanwhile in Silo 1 Donald is still masquerading as the Shepard and slowly dying while Charlotte is prepping drones to try to find the truth about what is actually out there beyond the silos. Juliette is battling political unrest, not everyone is happy about her quest to dig to Silo 17 or even believes her stories about the outside world. Donald continues to evade the dysfunctional but still effective bureaucracy while he searches for answers. Then things start to get interesting.
Howey strikes a keen a balance between plot and character. He is a master at economically building characters and managing mystery. Dust is the last book of the trilogy so there is not a lot of new characters Howey gets to introduce us to this time around. This is the book where he shows us if he can manage plot as well as he does his characters. Throughout all of the books Howey has done a marvelous job of dribbling out answers which simply lead to bigger questions. This time around though he has to give us the goods and he does eventually. Amazingly even in the last book of the series he is still introducing little twists and shifts in perspective, which has a wonderful effect of keeping you on your toes. We have learned that in fiction there are safe characters and not safe characters. Towards the end of Dust there are no safe characters. The human race itself is in jeopardy.
Howey keeps the pace of Dust brisk, there is a lot of action that takes place off screen (off text?), enough that I even noted it while reading. This really leads to my only criticism of the novel. Some threads seem rushed and it almost felt like I had skipped a couple of pages a time or two. In retrospect I think it’s as simple as Howey performing a cold calculus and mercilessly removing any unnecessary bits. Maybe the transitions could have been massaged a bit better.
Dust is a fitting conclusion to the Silo Saga. It doesn’t quite match the level of excellence of Wool and Shift but it is still one of the best books I have read this year.