Two years ago I read, and loved, Wool, the first book in the Silo Trilogy. I bought the follow-up on Kindle. And then… I just never read it. Until a month ago, when I really took notice of it just sitting untouched in my Kindle library and thought, dang, I should really read this book! So with that in mind, understand that by sitting on it for so long, I lost all of my interest and I couldn’t get it back, and that’s possibly causing me to judge the book unfairly. Yet, even with that concession, I still feel like Shift (2.5 stars) was spinning its wheels, looking for something to say, and is full of filler in ways that Wool wasn’t.
A quick recap with spoilers from Wool: Silo 18 is in the midst of an uprising, with members of “lower” levels trying to wrest power from the “upper” levels. Meanwhile, an ex-mechanic named Juliette escapes the silo, finds her way over to another (17), and, compounding her relatively new knowledge that the “upper” level administrators are enforcing some kind of World Older type conspiracy, is the sudden realization that her silo is not The Only Silo. She eventually gets back into 18, gains control of comms, and contacts Silo 1, where the true honchos of the operation are. The voice on the line sounds stoic and amoral and quietly challenging. She makes threats. It’s very exciting; there is a lot of promise for the future of the series.
But then, weirdly, with so much time in between finishing that and now, I came to a place where I didn’t really need more. The dastardly plot had been uncovered, and with some clever guesswork, I could probably predict how it would end. Once I started, what didn’t help was how part 1 of Shift opened with two very bland characters in time periods way before the events of Wool. And, well, look — I can understand the “prequel impulse”: when your book ends with the realization that the End of the World was something we did intentionally to ourselves at the instruction of a small group of individuals (like, who put them in charge, am I right?) there is fertile ground to go back and explore the events leading up to the execution of the plan. But it just lost me. Our protagonist Troy, from Silo 1 in 2110, has a vague sense of wrongness about himself and his situation, but he lacks subtlety — and, apparently, common sense — and bumbles through his sections serving no purpose that I could discern while reading. (In later sections, this character is explained, but I still feel confident saying that this whole first section could be removed with no impact on the story.) Likewise, our year 2049-ish protagonist, Donny, is naively being swept along in apocalypse plans and doesn’t seem to have any kind of convictions or motivation that make a character interesting. He’s a very passive player, and while I suppose that keeps in sympathetic, in a time where being proactive literally means purposefully planning the destruction of the earth, it makes for very muddy storytelling when your main character both has no idea what is going on AND has no curiosity to investigate.
So imagine my excitement when pre-apocalypse Donny proves to be the character that ties all three sections together. Until the very, very end of the book, he remains completely dependent on the whims of others to drive his storyline, and almost any time he tries to think for himself, he does it in so stupidly of a fashion that he always quickly gets caught — until, again, the very, very end, when he (accidentally) has come into enough power to not be immediately questioned. Each of the three sections has a second voice, so Troy is one of them; the second is a kid from Silo 18 named Mission. Upon seeing the jump to 18 I got excited as I thought we’d be making forward progress, but in fact his sections are occurring during the “Great Uprising” that was mentioned in Wool, hundreds of years before the present. And, man, if I thought Troy was pointless, this POV is even more so. We already know from Wool that the Great Uprising failed spectacularly, so as a reader the only reason to bring me back to this time is to teach me something new. Again, having finished the book, I can confidently say that nothing about this section contributed anything necessary to the overall narrative. It’s just a giant red herring where Mission thinks he needs to save his friend, when in fact his friend is being primed to be the next leader/flunky for Silo 1, and after some ominous words from 1 about how this kid could be the best leader yet, no one is ever heard from or referenced again. Finally, the last section also introduces us to Solo/Jimmy, the broken, frightened man that Juliette meets in Silo 17 in Wool. This is at least a character we’ve heard of, so while we potentially could care about his backstory, it’s basically subterranean Cast Away and, again, taught me effectively nothing new about the character. We already figured out in Wool that he’s traumatized and regressed to an animal-like state after 30+ years of isolation; his origin story did nothing to advance or add dimension to that characterization.
But, still, owing no thanks to the characters themselves, the overarching plotline did gain traction as the book progressed, and kept me interested enough that by the time I had started part 2 I was able to finish the rest pretty quickly. Necessarily, from spending time in Silo 1 with the guys in charge, I learned more about how the silos came to be, and what the plans were for post-silo life. By the end of the book, we are caught back up to Juliette communicating with Silo 1, only this time, we’re hearing the conversation from Donny’s perspective. As much as I am not impressed with him as a character, I do appreciate the irony that from Juliette’s perspective, she’s talking to a Big Bad, but actually, it’s just this guy who kind of tripped and fell into his position.
I’m on the fence, at this point, about whether I’m going to continue with Dust, the final novel. I’m worried it will be like Shift: full of unnecessary interludes that stifle the progression of the plot and kind of artlessly omnipotent in how it gifts characters with plot advancement they didn’t earn. Still, I may have it in me to finish the story whose beginning I loved so much.