Wool kicks off with one of the best hooks I've ever read:
A hazmat-suited man leaves the silo, expecting the noxious gray wilderness that's been displayed on the silo's cameras his entire life. He steps instead into a sunny green meadow full of birds and bunnies, warm breezes and happy trees. Ecstatic--and shocked at the deception wrought for so many decades on the silo's citizens--he removes his helmet...and dies choking on the virulent atmosphere. It wasn't the silo's screens that had been tampered with. It was the suit's visor...and by extension the visor of everyone who'd ever tried to leave before him.
One of the most reliable indicators for whether I'll enjoy a book is strength of internal logic, and Wool's is superb. The author apparently worked in construction and as some kind of ship's engineer in previous lives, and this was apparent in the way he built the silo. (I don't know how to explain why his mildly Orwellian society worked so well. Maybe he was a sociologist at some point too.)
The social and technological elements of his society reinforce one another and allow for some unsettlingly subtle methods of populace control. The cost of digital communication is artificially inflated, inhibiting the spread of ideas and dissemination of information. There are no elevators, making group assembly difficult. The more powerful units (like law enforcement and Mechanical) are located far from the seat of power. Different professions are dressed in different brightly colored uniforms, fostering clannishness and distrust. Parts are engineered to fail, ensuring people's continued reliance on the government. And the bodies of those who are banished from the silo are forever onscreen, a constant reminder of what happens to troublemakers.
The world building is pretty cool. It quivers with frontierish grit, independence, determination, racism and sexism and good old-fashioned Christian sanctimony. It's narrated first-person by one of the fearless strumpets, and her uneducated voice is wonderfully unassuming and sympathetic:
"Being a growed woman, it turned out, was harder work than it looked. But that's a thing, too, ain't it? Them as work hardest get no respect for it--women, ranch hands, sharecroppers, factory help, domestics--and them as spend all their time talking about how hard they work have no idea what an honest day's labor for nary enough pay to put beans in your family's bellies is all about."
Except for the abundant disparaging observations on the nature of "men", her perspective and quirky musings are a lot of fun to read. (Karen wonders at one point who she'll see first in Heaven, her long dead parents or her recently deceased friend; does it go in order of closeness or recency of demise? In Karen-speak it was movingly adorable.) In this book at least, that writing was Bear's greatest strength.
The action bits on the other hand are highly implausible. Downright silly. [SPOILER]One plucky heroine takes out a hulking sailor with half a bobby pin. I mean, maybe...if in addition to being a spunky 95-pound genius steampunk whore she was also a ninja. But she's not. [END SPOILER] A lot of the action sequences are resolved in ways designed to maximize ocular rotation.
Karen Memory's plot structure really has the feel of an old Hardy Boys book. Evil lunges into their lives uninvited, they get captured three or four times, always make clever but unlikely escapes, there's a slight twist at the end--not too big--and cue the happy ending. Straight out of Franklin W Dixon.
But it's worth the price of admission for the world, the characters, and Karen Memory herself.
Very action-oriented. Basically a 292-page strategic and tactical blueprint for how to run an anti-terror operation in a theme park. Rucka is very very good at this stuff...
...but in this case he relied on coincidence to a surprising and unfortunate extent to drive the story. Hero's daughter just happens to show up on Terrorism Day, and Chief Bad Guy's girlfriend just happens to be called in as ASL translator.....for none other than Hero's daughter. They become fast friends during the hostage crisis, just to complicate things.
I love stories about using training, intelligence and superior strategy (as opposed to stupid grunting Ramboesque badassery) to outgun bad guys. While Alpha was satisfying, the level of contrivance was a shame. Rucka kinda phoned it in; what was a good book could have been a great one.
Fantastic. Barry uses Lexicon to explore timely themes of privacy and compulsion, the dangers of disseminating personal information, the sneaky ways in which corporations and governments control and pacify us without using physical force.
In spite of all this cautionary tale-ing, Lexicon is a sharp, smart actiony romp, rife with Barry's characteristic dry wit and slick turns of phrase. There's a lot of pertinent, very-well-researched linguistics and sociology that thrilled my inner wordie.