Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

An Optimist in Constant Fear

A handful of Amazon reviewers have mentioned the allegories evident in WOOL 1. They compliment the story on forcing them to think on issues long after finishing the last page. Readers of my MOLLY FYDE series are no doubt used to every scenario having at least two meanings (usually more). I’m a huge fan of Swift’s work, his ability to infuse meaning in seemingly innocuous plot events. WOOL has several layers of meaning for me, none of which I think are perfectly obvious as of yet.

One thing I’d like to say about my personal philosophy that could help shed a bit of light on the world of WOOL — and I don’t think this will spoil the end for anyone, because I don’t have the answers — is that I’m a paranoid optimist. What does that mean? It means that, for all of my study of history, economics, and human behavior, I’m led to believe that the world is getting better and better with every passing moment. This isn’t out of some naive fantasy or from wishful thinking, but from a sober analysis of today’s world compared to yesterday’s.

Some excellent reading on this topic: THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURES by Steven Pinker; THE RATIONAL OPTIMIST by Matt Ridley; THE POPULATION CRASH by Fred Pearce; WHOLE EARTH DISCIPLINE by Stuart Brand; GRAND PURSUIT by Sylvia Nasar; and there are loads more. The point is this: while I am beginning to understand that the world is improving (which is stronger than simply believing this to be so), I also have this nagging fear that shit is hitting the fan. It’s this fear that I believe runs rampant in the hearts of most (especially those who watch contemporary news and get no historical perspective to counter it with, or those who perversely want things to be getting worse for ideological reasons).

Maybe it’s nostalgia that makes us think the world is uglier outside than it appears. Maybe it’s a survival tool. Perhaps it’s faulty pattern recognition. Whatever the cause, I have it in my heart as well.

I think the world outside is better than most people think it is. I believe we blur it with our own fears, our prejudices, our expectations, our ignorance. I think, if we were able to “clean our sensors,” we might find things to be brighter and more beautiful than we fully imagine.

But then, a part of me, some nagging core, wonders if it isn’t all really the abject hell channel 9 makes it out to be at six o’clock every night. (And again at eleven).