This will include spoilers of the Wool/Silo series. I can’t emphasize enough how much more fun and impactful the books are if you read them without knowing, so only read ahead if you’re fairly sure you won’t be reading them.
As discussed before, the setting of the book occurs in a silo mostly underground. What’s left of mankind is living there for several generations with no memory of their history or world above… as far as they know, the silo is the world and all that has ever been. The top floor of the silo is on ground level, with a view to the apocalyptic wasteland around. In the distance one can see destroyed ruins of what may have been a city. The view is from a camera located outside. There is a religious ritual called “cleaning” in a which a person doomed to death leaves the silo to clean the camera so as to allow those within a better view of the world outside. For some unknown reason, everyone who leaves, even those promising to not clean, end up doing so. They die soon after, their bodies littering the landscape in front of the camera, dozens if not hundreds now accumulated over the years.
The society in the Silo is described quite well. Powered by natural resources acquired by digging down and a generator, growing their own food via UV light and extensive hydroponics, developing their own society. The politics of the Silo is fascinating. A Mayor is elected by the inhabitants, and a Sheriff appointed for day to day law and order. But there is also an all-powerful IT department that we slowly find out is the real power in the Silo. As far as the average citizen is concerned, the Mayor runs things. But to those in the know, the IT department holds the power and they seem to know more about the Silo than they let on. They also select their own successors, and are effectively not beholden to any form of democratic check. On occasion, every 60-100 years or so, a rebellion occurs against the powers that be, an Uprising, and it is violently put down. Little memory remains of the last one.
Juliette is a mechanic and main protagonist, who through a series of events comes to be Sheriff and eventually targeted by the Head of IT as troublesome. The process through which she slowly learns the truth of the Silo is fascinating, as are the reveals to us the reader, and their not too subtle symbolism to our society.
For instance, the Silo is governed by “The Pact”, written in time immemorial to govern its inhabitants. No one really remembers who wrote it (except of course, IT):
“The silo made less sense. It hadn’t been created by a God—it was probably designed by IT. This was a new theory, but she felt more and more sure of it. They controlled all the important parts. Cleaning was the highest law and the deepest religion, and both of these were intertwined and housed within its secretive walls. And then there was the spacing from Mechanical and the spread of the deputy stations—more clues. Not to mention the clauses in the Pact, which practically granted them immunity.”
Huh. A real government behind the nominal government, that holds the real power for its own purposes. Starting to sound familiar to the neoreactionaries out there?
More is revealed when the Head of IT is training his eventual successor. A thick manual is revealed, titled THE ORDER, with precise instructions on what to do in case of virtually anything:
“You’ll want to familiarize yourself with this.” Bernard gestured toward a small desk which had a fragile-
looking wooden chair tucked up against it. There was a book on the desk unlike any Lukas had ever seen, or even heard of. It stood nearly as high as it was wide. Bernard patted the cover, then inspected his palm for dust. “I’ll give you the spare key, which you are to never remove from your neck. Come down when you can and read. Our history is in here, as well as every action you are to take in any emergency.”
Lukas approached the book, a lifetime’s worth of paper, and hinged open the cover. The contents were machine printed, the ink pitch-black. He flipped through a dozen pages of listed contents until he found the first
page of the body. Oddly, he recognized the opening lines immediately.
“It’s the Pact,” he said, looking up at Bernard. “I already know quite a bit of—”
“This is the pact,” Bernard told him, pinching the first half inch of the thick book. “The rest is the Order.”
He stepped back.
Lukas hesitated, digesting this, then reached forward and flopped the tome open near its middle.
• In the event of an earthquake:
• For casement cracking and outside seepage, turn to AIRLOCK BREACH (p.2180)
• For collapse of one or more levels, see SUPORT COLUMNS under SABOTAGE (p.751)
• For fire outbreak, see—
“Sabotage?” Lukas flipped a few pages and read something about air handling and asphyxiation. “Who came up with all this stuff?”
“People who have experienced many bad things.”
“Like . . . ?” He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to say this, but it felt like taboos weren’t allowed down there. “Like the people before the uprising?”
“The people before those people,” Bernard said. “The one people.”
Tantalizing, no? Later, following a renewed rebellion, Lukas (the apprentice) has his training sped up. He learns that the Order is meant to protect the Legacy, the history of the world before. The history the powers that created the Silo think best to conserve that is, for the future.
Lukas pinched a thick chunk of the Order and flopped it to the side. He skipped past all the recipes for averting silo disasters and checked out some of the more academic reference material toward the back. This stuff was even more frightening: chapters on group persuasion, on mind-control, on the effects of fear on upbringing, graphs and tables dealing with population growth—
He couldn’t take it. He adjusted his chair and watched Bernard for a while as the head of IT and acting Mayor scrolled through screen after screen of text, his head notching back and forth as he scanned the words there.
After a moment, Lukas dared to break the silence:
“Hey, why isn’t there anything in here about how all this came to be?”
Bernard’s office chair squealed as he swiveled it around to face Lukas. “I’m sorry, what?”
“The people who made all this, the people who wrote these books. Why isn’t there anything in the Order about them? Like how they built all this stuff in the first place.”
“Why would there be?” Bernard half turned back to his computer.
“So we would know. I dunno, like all the stuff in the other books—”
“I don’t want you reading those other books. Not yet.” Bernard pointed to the wooden desk. “Learn the Order first. If you can’t keep the silo together, the Legacy books are pulp. They’re as good as processed wood if no one’s around to read them.”
“Nobody can read them but the two of us if they stay locked up down here—”
“No one alive. Not today. But one day, there’ll be plenty of people who’ll read them. But only if you
study.” Bernard nodded toward the thick and dreadful book before turning back to his keyboard and reaching for his mouse.
Lukas sat there a while, staring at Bernard’s back, the knotted cord of his master keys sticking out of the top of his undershirt.
“I figure they must’ve known it was coming,” Lukas said, unable to stop himself from perseverating about it.
He had always wondered about these things, had suppressed them, had found his thrills in piecing together the distant stars that were so far away as to be immune to the hillside taboos. And now he lived in this vacuum, this hollow of the silo no one knew about where forbidden topics didn’t dare tread and he had access to a man who seemed to know the precious truth.
“You aren’t studying,” Bernard said. His head remained bent over his keyboard, but he seemed to know Lukas was watching him.
“But they had to’ve seen it coming, right?” Lukas lifted his chair and turned it around a little more. “I mean, to have built all these silos before it got so bad out there —”
Bernard turned his head to the side, his jaw clenching and unclenching. His hand fell away from the mouse and
came up to smooth his mustache. “These are the things you want to know? How it happened?”
“Yes.” Lukas nodded. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I want to know.”
“Do you think it matters? What happened out there?” Bernard turned and looked up at the schematics on the wall, then at Lukas. “Why would it matter?”
“Because it happened. And it only happened one way, and it kills me not to know. I mean, they saw it coming, right? It would take years to build all—”
“Decades,” Bernard said.
“And then move all this stuff in, all the people—” “That took much less time.”
“So you know?”
Bernard nodded. “The information is stored here, but
not in any of the books. And you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter. That’s the past, and the past is not the same thing as our legacy. You’ll need to learn the difference.”
“The difference between our past and our legacy.”
“Hm.” Bernard nodded. He seemed to be waiting on something.
Lukas thought about the difference. For some reason, a conversation with Juliette sprang to mind, something she was forever telling him—
“I think I know,” he said.
“Oh?” Bernard pushed his glasses up his nose and
stared at him. “Tell me what you think you know.” “All our hope, the accomplishments of those before us,
what the world can be like, that’s our Legacy.”
Bernard’s lips broke into a smile. He waved his hand to continue.
“And the bad things that can’t be stopped, the mistakes that got us here, that’s the past.”
“And what does this difference mean? What do you think it means?”
“It means we can’t change what’s already happened, but we can have an impact on what happens next.”
Bernard clapped his small hands together. “Very good.”
“And this—” Lukas turned and rested one hand on the thick book. He continued, unbidden, “—the Order.
This is a roadmap for how to get through all the bad that’s piled up between our past and the future’s hope. This is the stuff we can prevent, that we can fix.”
The silo can best be thought of as a ship, only instead of taking people safely from one location to another it is taking them from one point in time to another, hundreds of years later, to survive a catastrophe that has afflicted the Earth. For the greater good. And to survive such an extended journey in a very unnatural and cramped environment, strict control has to be exercised for the greater good. The illusion of elections and controls helps keep the population in line, but IT is there to manage the real problems. And people having knowledge of all this would only lead to problems so it is better that they don’t, that a religion is developed to keep them in line, believing the Silo is the world and their day-to-day lives have meaning when they are really just seeds for the future.
The people know what they need to know, and those in charge know what they need to know. And we eventually find out a big secret: there is not just one Silo. There are many. Run by another silo, Silo 1, without an extend population. A silo built solely for IT, for those controlling the other Silos. The ultimate power. And they must approve of the IT selections of every individual Silo. And the only people who know this are IT. For it would not benefit the people of the Silo to know of other Silos… it would only confuse them.
They communicate via a system of phones to the IT departments of each respective Silo. And the initiation ceremony of Lukas is both terrifying and revealing:
“What is your primary duty to the silo?”
Bernard had prepped him on likely questions.
“To maintain the Order.”
Silence. No feedback, no sense if he was right or wrong.
“What do you protect above all?”
The voice was flat and yet powerfully serious. Dire and somehow calm. Lukas felt his mouth go dry.
“Life and Legacy,” he recited. But it felt wrong, this rote façade of knowledge. He wanted to go into detail, to let this voice, like a strong and sober father, understand that he knew why this was important. He wasn’t dumb. He had more to say than memorized facts —
“What does it take to protect these things we hold so dear?”
“It takes sacrifice,” Lukas whispered. He thought of Juliette—and the calm demeanor he was projecting for Bernard nearly crumbled. There were some things he wasn’t sure about, things he didn’t understand. This was one of them. It felt like a lie, his answer. He wasn’t sure the sacrifice was worth it, the danger so great that they had to let people, good people, go to their—
If anything is worth defending, worth the sacrifice, it is human civilization. The future. But the next reveal is jaw-dropping:
“You are next in line for the control and operation of silo eighteen,” the voice intoned.
“Thank you sir.”
Lukas reached for the headphones, was preparing to take them off and hand them to Bernard in case he needed to say something, to hear that it was official.
“Do you know the worst part of my job?” the hollow voice asked.
Lukas dropped his hands.
“What’s that, sir?”
“Standing here, looking at a silo on this map, and drawing a red cross through it. Can you imagine what that feels like?”
Lukas shook his head. “I can’t, sir.”
“It feels like a parent losing thousands of children, all at once.”
“You will have to be cruel to your children to not lose them.”
Lukas thought of his father.
“Welcome to Operation Fifty of the World Order, Lukas Kyle. Now, if you have a question or two, I have the time to answer, but briefly.”
Lukas wanted to say that he had no questions; he wanted to get off the line; he wanted to call and speak with Juliette, to feel a puff of sanity breathed into this crazy and suffocating room. But he remembered what Bernard had taught him about admitting ignorance, how this was the key to knowledge.
“Just one, sir. And I’ve been told it isn’t important, and I understand why that’s true, but I believe it will make my job here easier if I know.”
He paused for a response, but the voice seemed to be waiting for him to get to the question.
Lukas cleared his throat. “Is there—?” He pinched the mic and moved it closer to his lips, glanced at Bernard. “How did this all begin?”
He wasn’t sure—it could have been a fan on the server whirring to life—but he thought he heard the man with the deep voice sigh.
“How badly do you wish to know?”
Lukas feared answering this question honestly. “It isn’t crucial,” he said, “but I would appreciate a sense of what we’re accomplishing, what we survived. It feels like it gives me—gives us a purpose, you know?”
“The reason is the purpose,” the man said cryptically. “Before I tell you, I’d like to hear what you think.”
Lukas swallowed. “What I think?”
“Everyone has ideas. Are you suggesting you don’t?” A hint of humor could be heard in that hollow voice.
“I think it was something we saw coming,” Lukas said. He watched Bernard, who frowned and looked away.
“That’s one possibility.”
Bernard removed his glasses and began wiping them on the sleeve of his undershirt, his eyes at his feet.
“Consider this—” The deep voice paused. “What if I told you that there were only fifty silos in all the world, and that here we are in this infinitely small corner of it.”
Lukas thought about this. It felt like another test.
“I would say that we were the only ones—” He almost said that they were the only ones with the resources, but
he’d seen enough in the Legacy to know this wasn’t true. Many parts of the world had buildings rising above their hills. Many more could have been prepared. “I’d say we were the only ones whoknew,” Lukas suggested.
“Very good. And why might that be?”
He hated this. He didn’t want to puzzle it out, he just wanted to be told.
And then, like a cable splicing together, like electricity zipping through connections for the very first time, the truth hit him.
“It’s because—” He tried to make sense of this answer in his head, tried to imagine that such an idea could possibly verge on truth.
“It’s not because we knew,” Lukas said, sucking in a gasp of air. “It’s because we did it.”
“Yes,” the voice said. “And now you know.”
They did it. They wiped out the world. All of it. All of human civilization has been wiped out other than 50 Silos holding 250k-500k people total. An ark for the future. And the people behind the project, World Order Operation Fifty (W O O L) did it. They pushed the button. They hit the reboot. The most horrific act of genocide in the history of mankind. What could possibly justify this? The deaths of over 7 billion people. And for what purpose?