Book Review: Second Shift – Order by Hugh Howey

Second Shift - Order Book cover ArtIn my review of First Shift, I debated the reading order between Wool 1 and First Shift, but Second Shift makes it clear that Wool Omnibus should be read before Second Shift. For this reason, I’m assuming that anyone looking to read the review for Second Shift has already read Wool Omnibus and the first two books of Shift Omnibus, all of which are so good that it’s doubtful you’re reading this to see if you should go on. If you haven’t read any of these, pick up Wool Omnibus and get ready for one of the best SF books out there.

This review will contain spoilers of everything except for Third Shift, which I haven’t read yet. I’m more interested in discussing with those who have read up to this point only.

I am really enjoying the moral dilemma presented in the Shift Saga, of whether or not it is best to kill in order to preserve more lives. Would you kill to live? Would you kill a friend in order to save two more lives? What if your friend was going to die anyway? What if your friend could live, but it would cost two or three more lives?

These are the questions raised by one of the leaders of the silo project, Senator Thurman, posed to our hero of First Shift, Troy, aka Donald, in the context of whether or not it was right of him to kill billions of people before they created the restart button of humanity through the silo system.

I really enjoyed Donald’s arc in Second Shift, and the emotional experience of finding out about his wife. Can you imagine what that must feel like? And then to add his former lover sleeping in the same room, constantly flaunting herself and making advances? I hesitate saying that any artist has done something perfectly, but Donald’s arc is pretty close. I also loved the end to his arc, his choice to leave, and the subsequent revelations regarding Thurman not wearing a suit.

The other main storyline of Second Shift is the porter, Mission Jones, who lives in Silo 18.

Shift OmnibusFirst Shift ended with Troy/Donald being woken up to resolve a problem with Silo 18. Second Shift starts with the words, “For those we terrify at birth.” The reason for this dedication isn’t revealed until the end of Second Shift, and is a very interesting homage to the moral dilemma explored in Second Shift. I’m interested in seeing how well each piece of Second Shift fits into the moral dilemma of whether or not it is best to kill in order to preserve an ignorant, but safe future. Is it really best to forget our past? The end of Second Shift is a chilling answer, with Mission’s lost memories.

Aptly enough, the first sentence in SS is “Deathdays are birthdays,” introducing the new character of Mission Jones, who was only given life because his mother had him outside of the lottery, a system that allowed babies to be born (birthday) after someone died (deathday). His mother was forced to clean because of this indiscretion, thus ending her life. As a result, Mission feels like his existence was the ultimate burden to his mother, and bases major decisions on not wanting to be a burden to others. As a result, he fears living because, to him, life came from death. Unfortunately for his friend, Cam, who we meet as we meet Mission carrying a delivery, Cam dies in order for Mission to live. Mission jokingly pointing out to Cam along their delivery a graffiti message, “Down with the Up Top,” shows us that Mission has yet to learn the seriousness of his situation.

In between Mission’s adventure is the revelation: “Everyone was trying to get to where they didn’t need one another. And how exactly was that supposed to help them all get along?” (location 2540) I wonder if this isn’t a nod to Thurman’s stance that the people inside the silos don’t need the people who were killed above ground in order for their experiment to take place.

Donald writes, “Thurman spoke of sacrifice, of the greater good, of individual lives proving meaningless in the far stretch of time” (location 4409). I agree with that, but does that make me the same as Thurman? Very perplexing questions posed by Hugh.

I should add that I loved Hugh’s ingenuity to think that it is easier to move through time than space. This adds to the fear this story actually happening, especially with the pursuit of nanotech and biological warfare.

I thought Mission’s mission—forgive the pun, but I wonder if it wasn’t intentional by Hugh—suffered a little bit from all the travel, reminding me of the middle of Wool Omnibus, and how their preparation for war was the only part of the book that didn’t read quickly, but had great little payoffs in his realization about his mother not being afraid to live or die, about the benefit of his friends carrying him, and ultimately what he was willing to do for his teacher. So, maybe in hindsight I don’t have a problem with the travel, but at the time, and in between these powerful moments, it wasn’t reading as fast and enjoyable as other parts.

All that to say, Hugh is keeping me on my toes, and I honestly have no idea what he’s going to do in Third Shift, which is a great sign to his accomplishments and my enjoyment of the Silo Saga. He’s doing this through a prequel, no less, which I’d assume would not be as surprising as it has been. While I like that the arcs in Second Shift feel complete for this stage, it doesn’t really throw me into the next part like I want a book to. I want a book that makes me not want to read anything else, ever, and I didn’t have that after this.

As far as rating, I give it a 4/5. It is really good, but not mind blowing in the way his other 5 star works have been.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former executive producer and Hugo Nominee of Adventures in SciFi Publishing. He has been broke and lost on the other side of the world and now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer, he released his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant, and a new series that begins with Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Sign up for his newsletter for news, sales, giveaways and more:

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