We go all the way back to the near future to find out the what, why and when of the origins of the silos. Spoiler alert: it’s bloody terrifying!

Written by

Hugh Howey in 2013

If you’re like me, and you got hooked on Wool, the first omnibus of the Silo series of short stories, then you’ll love Shift. It’s the second omnibus in the series, but a chronological prequel to Wool. The end of Wool gave me a sense of hope, a brighter and freer future for our characters stuck underground in their concrete sausages, but it also left me with a series of pertinent questions, like why the frak would you stick thousands of people underground? Or , even, how they were convinced, in the first place, to get into these things? Well, Shift gives us all answers to some of the biggest questions, but also leaves quite a bunch of additional questions, which are hopefully answered by the end of the third entry into the trilogy.

Shift is also divided into three sections, though far more equal in length than the parts in Wool. The major character arcs in each of the short stories focuses upon one Donald Keene, a newly elected US congressman, bright and idealistic, but thrown into a dark conspiracy, full of intrigue, but devoid of answers. Keene’s journey throughout the three stories, is one of discovery, both in terms of the fate of the world’s population and that of his beloved wife, the mourning of what he believed was to be his future and coming to terms, with and accepting his fate.

We’re also treated to some time travel, with a section dealing with the largest uprising ever seen in Silo 18, as witnessed by a young porter named Mission, an ancestor (though likely not by blood) of Juliette Nichols. This is coupled with the further discoveries of Donald Keene, running symmetrically, but not in the same period as each other. Finally, the third part of the omnibus captures the lonely life of Jimmy or Solo, introduced in Wool, one of the survivors of Silo 17, and his struggles to survive in the darkness, the depressing loneliness and fear that he might not be alone in the concrete dark.

Where Wool presumably deals with the themes of freedom, truth and defiance against a crooked system, Shift deals with the question of whether the ends justify the means. Without spoiling the story, the entire premise of the trilogy, as depicted by this prequel is that man’s technological prowess has reached a stage where those in power are paranoid about a completely invisible enemy. That the enemy is completely uncontrollable, means that the human race might well have been living on borrowed time. It is not a good thought and Shift adds to the bleakness of Wool, that humanity lost its freedom because of its desire to dominate and win, rather than cooperate and grow.

Shift is probably one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read. It’s all about loss. Loss of identity, memory, friends, family and the world. But it is also about survival and instinct, the willingness to fight and create, hopefully, a better world. However, that better world in Shift appears to have been envisioned by megalomaniacs and delusional, paranoid men in suits, rather than molded by the collective ideals of a democratic society. Shift is a frightening possibility for the future, one that nobody should aspire to.

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