Monday, July 18, 2016

"Wool" and the Social Compact

 Wool by Hugh Howey is about a community governed by an explicit social compact called “The Pact.”  Two key elements that drive the plot and provide the conflict are Effective Communication and Community Participation.  If one person does not participate in the community according to the rules of the Pact, then he or she can spark an uprising.  The community’s dependence on this one element affects the other key element – communication.

In the case of  Wool, communication has been effectively restricted.  It is horizontal, not vertical.  The Pact has designed a highly stratified society in which members of one group are discouraged – even prevented – from interacting with members of other groups.  These two conditions set the stage for an exciting story as the conflict unfolds.

What is striking about Howey’s novel is that the imaginary world he created can be found in real-life.  It is not a great stretch to find a highly stratified society, which lacks vertical interaction, and whose leaders attempt control by a set of complicated rules to adjust behavior.  In such a society, all it takes to spark an uprising is one person challenging the system by asking “why”.

1 comment:

  1. Howey's Silo trilogy (Wool, Shift, and Dust) is probably my favorite sci-fi series, with the exception of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. I've even enjoyed other writers' attempts to elaborate on Howey's Silo world, as, for example, Ann Christy's Silo 49: Going Dark. There are too many of these to ennumerate here. Ann Christy has at least seven books in her Silo 49 spin-off. The social contract is fundamental to Robinson's Mars trilogy as well, and probably to all sci-fi world-building series. Even dystopian fiction cannot venture beyond a single book without elaborating a social contract of some sort. Consider Fahrenheit 451, for example, or The Giver, in both of which a highly structured society is on the cusp of disintegration as a new social contract is emerging. The same is true in The Hunger Games. And Star Wars. And on and on. Curious to consider in how many of such stories the dystopian fall and re-emergence of some sort of social order is merely background scenery, and in how many it affords as main ingredient of the story.