Like ‘Sand’ Through The Hourglass

Why did it take Hugh Howey so long to write a sequel to ‘Sand’?

Turns out that if you dump half a mile’s worth of sand on top of Colorado, it suddenly becomes fascinating. That’s the premise of Hugh Howey’s “Sand Chronicles” whose second installment, Across the Sand, is out today.

Across the Sand is a direct sequel to Sand, with more slow revelations about the new desert world. With big sister Vic gone, Conner, Rob, Palmer, and Violet get page time and, along with Anya and her friend Jonah, Howey tells the majority of the book through a teenage perspective.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Not all large fictional families imply that the narrative is bound to become an epic, but, as with the Stark family in Game of Thrones, when multiple siblings from the central family survive to the end of a successful novel, it tends to suggest a series. And that’s especially true for Howey, who has produced two of America’s most read contemporary science fiction series— the “Silo” and the “Bern” sagas.

Across the Sand

Although Howey writes in the acknowledgments that readers were “clamouring for more” all he says was “I knew I would get to [the story] when the time was right.” So the release of Across the Sand—eight years after the original collection of stories about five siblings growing up by the continental divide—prompts the question “why did it take him so long”?

It may have been that he needed a narrative excuse, a new way back to the characters. Howey returns with a bang (literally, though no spoilers!), reaching the flawed siblings by means of Anya. She’s the teenage daughter of Brock, the bad guy and agent provocateur from “Sand.” She stows away with her friend Jonah as her father and two colleagues kind of CIA agents—cross the desert from their mining town, where huddled immigrants live behind bars, to Low-Pub and Danvar.

Howey is excellent at imagining and representing our world transformed by time and substance. The real trick of his narratives is how he uses characters and their actions to slow down the readers’ discovery of the world and its ramifications. In his breakthrough “Silo” saga, where the silo walls obscure the relationship between Howey’s world and our time, the reveal comes excruciatingly and satisfyingly slowly.

In Sand, the obscuring factor is obvious. Colorado is covered with sand from some unspecified catastrophic event and “sand divers” serve the patchwork villages on the surface desert by scavenging artifacts and goods from the depths. These villages Shantytown, Springston, Danvar, Low-Pub have no idea what lies beyond the desert that they criss-cross with their small solar-powered sand-craft, their “sarfers.”

The nomads seem to have a sense of what lies beyond, but they couch their warnings to Rob, though based on a better understanding of the scavenged technology than anyone else in the desert,  in quasi-oracular rhetoric. It’s not clear that they even know about the mines and organized towns beyond the desert.

Often a long hiatus can be a signal that an author has had to retread a property that he doesn’t particularly love. The gap in time can cause a change in tone as his writing has developed or a blurring of focus as he has moved out of alignment with the world he was building eight years ago.

Those drawbacks are not evident for Howey here, but it’s clear that in the intervening time he has doubled down on the teen focus to keep the “Sand Chronicles” much closer to the YA crossover audience that he generated with his “Bern Saga” about the teenage girl heroine Molly Fyde and her adventures in space.

It’s a shame, because the original novel had left some significant post-apocalypse avenues to explore, about adult relationships and survival politics. But Across the Sand tells multiple coming of age stories and leaves more for Howey in future installments. Whatever the era, growing up as sand-dwelling future folks, life is a beach.

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Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman is the former executive editor of the Forward and the author of an ebook about Tears for Fears, the 80s rock band. He has a PhD from Yale and writes about books, whisky and the dangers of online hate. Subscribe to his newsletter.

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