November 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm (Reads) (, , )

DustDust by Hugh Howey


So, if you don’t want this book spoiled for you, stop reading at the end of this paragraph.  I mean, I can sum up my feelings about the book pretty easily — compelling and readable, but otherwise a mess of a story that makes little sense — but in order to really cover why the book is such a disappointment is going to take some spoilers.  So proceed at your own risk.

My biggest issue with this volume was the crass emotional manipulation going on in the story.  It’s one thing to create a situation and then dole out pieces of information to slowly reveal what happened, but in Dust, Howey tosses out any subtlety and just starts messing with you.  See, near the three-quarters point of the novel, Silo 18, the heart and soul of this trilogy, is terminated.  Thurman executes an order that pops the door to the outside and sends in a bunch of killing nanobots to take care of the residents inside, and there’s a gut-wrenching* scene where Juliette is talking to Lukas on the radio and they’re having to say their goodbyes and I-love-yous as Lukas witnesses the white fog filling the silo.  Later, we see someone from Silo 1 theorize that one of the rogue workers there might have sabotaged the white fog (a/k/a killer nanobots) pipes so that they sent the helpful nanobots instead.  So there’s that hint that maybe they’re not dead, maybe we’ll hear from them again, and maybe when Juliette and her people walk out of the silos, they’ll see Lukas and his people join them.

That never happens.  In fact, there are a lot of things that Howey hints at that are never resolved.  Silo 40 is a great mystery, and there are a lot of folks who think that the inhabitants of that silo are still alive, living their own lives apart from the control of Silo 1.  Nothing ever comes of it.  We know that the air outside the silos is poisoned, and we start to get that the poison comes from within the silos, and whenever someone is sent out to clean, they also take more killer nanobots with them.  That’s not taken anywhere interesting, either.  I guess the destruction of Silo 1 is an indication that this will stop happening?  I guess?  And then there’s the scene at the end of the book, where Juliette and the rest of her survivors make it out of the poisoned air and get back out into the real world.  They look back and see this domed region where the silos are, the air polluted and grimy, somehow existing separate from the rest of the world and not affecting it in the least.  How does that work?  And for that matter, what actually happened way back when Thurmond and the rest of the politicians put this plan into place?  Was there really a nuclear destruction of the entire world, or was it localized just to where the silos were?  If it really was a massive destruction, then why is the area outside the silos green and fertile?  If it were the latter, then why does Howey make the world out to be so empty?  What actually happened there?

There were also a couple of scenes in the book which didn’t make any sense, and seemed to be taken from another series.  At one point, Elise gets separated from the rest of her group, and wanders into a scene out of a fantasy novel, where a bunch of vendors are set up in an open market, selling random crap or food, and I kept thinking, Isn’t this supposed to be indoors?  And aren’t the ceilings supposed to be pretty low on each level?  How is it that these folks aren’t getting choked out from all the smoke?  Up until that point, all of the settings had felt small, cramped, and claustrophobic (which, I should note, was exactly as it should have felt), and suddenly we’re somewhere else that felt airy and open.  Had the scene been useful in any way, I would have been a little more accepting, but it served no purpose to the plot, save to put Elise in touch with someone who could serve a purpose for her later.  The market didn’t make any sense in relation to the rest of the series, and it makes me wonder why Howey chose something Medieval to create that encounter.

I had some serious issues with the character of Donald.  He’s supposed to be one of the protagonists, and someone to sympathize with, but then he goes and revives people from their cryostasis just to kill them.  One of them even tries to talk to him, to explain herself and what happened, but he refuses to listen and kills her.  Later, as he realizes what he’s done, he doesn’t fall into some crippling guilt; he just realizes that he had loved her, feels regret, and then keeps moving forward with his plan.  It didn’t make any sense, either as a part of his character, or a part of the story.

For that matter, there are several scenes in the novel where I felt like I should have been more emotional about what was happening.  There was the scene where Juliette and Lukas are saying their goodbyes, a kid who falls to his death during a riot, the goodbyes between Charlotte and her brother, and Charlotte and Darcy, but none of them felt gut-wrenching.  I felt pretty detached from it all, because Howey had never built up the relationships well enough for me to get more than a general sad feeling about what was happening.  Shoot, the kid who fell didn’t get any real development at all, and I think we were supposed to feel sad about it because he was a kid.  I’ve seen it work well in other books — The Book Thief and Moloka’i especially — but here it’s just sort of a “Dang, that’s sad, but now I’m going to move on to the next scene” sort of thing.

Howey also shows too much.  Near the end of the book, as Juliette is trying to convince the residents of Silo 17 (née Silo 18) to go outside, she talks about all the deductions she’s made to lead her to where they should go.  Part of it involves the amount of fuel that is in the diggers that are buried between the lowest levels of the silos, and the rate at which the diggers use that fuel.  It’s useful information, but the reader is getting it a second time, since we’ve already been through a scene or two where Juliette considers using the diggers to get them out of the silo.  It wasn’t necessary to show us all of that.  A couple of scenes where Juliette has a realization, says, “I need to see the digger,” her calling a town hall meeting, and then revealing that piece of information would have been enough.  Instead, we see this repetition.  And it happens a lot throughout the series.  It’s like Howey doesn’t have the faith in his readers to allow for these kinds of revelations to happen behind the scenes until they’re necessary for the narrative.

The whole thing is just sloppy.  I’m not against the self-publishing method, but if you’re going to go that route, at least have the sense to employ an editor who can hone your story down into something that makes more sense.  Otherwise, the whole thing comes across as amateurish.

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