Posted on April 15, 2016
13. ‘Sand’ by Hugh Howey
I did not realise Howey had another novel out until I wandered into the sci-fi section at the library and saw this lovely big hardback sitting there. I believe Sand, like the Silo trilogy, was published as a series first, and has since been combined into one novel.
Everything that used to be has been buried under hundreds of metres of sand and the inhabitants of the new world must eke out a paltry existence on the dry, unforgiving surface. Among the survivors are sand divers, skilled adventurers who can dive under the sand to great depths and recover artefacts from the old world. Palmer is a sand diver, as is his sister, Vic. Estranged from their brothers, Conner and Rob, this scattered family must find each other after a huge discovery rocks the status quo, and do what they can to save the world they know.
I enjoyed this book for similar reasons to why I enjoyed Wool. Howey is good at setting up realistic dystopian worlds founded on fragments and memories of old ones (for example, in Sand the major settlements are named after the places that used to exist there; Danvar is Denver, Colorado). There’s the same straightforward practicality in all the characters, the same firm feeling of a world well thought out and established. I particularly loved that Howey invented different words for different kinds of sand – it makes total sense that in a world dominated by sand, inhabitants would have different words for it depending on its consistency, or whether it collects in your shoes or your hair. I also enjoyed Howey’s continuing reign of destruction. He’s very good at demolishing everything and showing how life moves on. You think, ‘That won’t happen, that’s a lynch pin of the story’, but very suddenly a character will die or a destructive event will happen, and life goes on. I really appreciate that fearlessness in the storytelling.
My main quibble with the book is that I don’t think it was long enough. Unlike the Silo series, which I felt couldn’t be sustained over three books, I thought this one was a bit too rushed, especially towards the end. For a while I thought Howey might be setting up for another trilogy, and it was such a fun romp with likeable characters that I would have been totally up for that. But instead it ended quite abruptly and I thought much more could have been done with the complex revelations he had set up. Ultimately it felt too local. That sense of claustrophobia worked brilliantly in Wool, but having established a wider world in Sand it would have been a lot more interesting if we saw the characters go out into it.
I thought Sand was another solid contribution from Howey, but not thrilling enough to really capture my imagination.
“When the desert wraps its great arms around your chest and decides you won’t breathe any more, that’s when you feel how small you are, just a grain of sand crushed among infinite grains of sand.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.