Like ‘sand’ through an hourglass

Turns out if you throw half a mile of sand over Colorado, it suddenly becomes mesmerizing. That’s the premise of Hugh Howey’s “Sand Chronicles,” whose second installment, Across the Sand, opens today.

Across the Sand is a direct sequel to Sand, with slower reveals about the new desert world. Without older sister Vic, Conner, Rob, Palmer and Violet have page time and, along with Anya and her friend Jonah, Howey tells most of the book from a teenage perspective.

Not all great fictional families involve the narrative becoming 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, tends to suggest a series. And that’s especially true for Howey, who has produced two of America’s most widely read contemporary sci-fi series: the “Silo” and “Bern” sagas.

through the sand

Although Howey writes in the acknowledgments that readers “were clamoring for more,” all he says is “I knew I’d 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 brothers growing up on the continental divide, begs the question “why did it take so long?”

It may have been that he needed a narrative excuse, a new way to get back to the characters. Howey returns with a bang (literally, spoiler-free though!), reaching out to the flawed siblings by way of Anya. She is the teenage daughter of Brock, the villain and agent provocateur of “Sand”. She hides with her friend Jonah as her father and two colleagues, a kind of CIA agents: they cross the desert from their mining town, where immigrants live crammed behind bars, to Low-Pub and Danvar.

Howey is excellent at imagining and representing our world transformed by time and substance. The real trick to his narratives is how she uses his characters and his actions to slow readers’ discovery of the world and its ramifications. In his groundbreaking “Silo” saga, where the walls of the silo obscure the relationship between Howey’s world and our time, the revelation comes with excruciatingly satisfying slowness.

In Sand, the darkening factor is obvious. Colorado is covered in sand from some unspecified catastrophic event and “sand divers” serve the patchwork villages on the surface of the desert by searching for artifacts and goods from the deep. These Shantytown, Springston, Danvar, Low-Pub towns have no idea what lies beyond the desert they cross with their little solar-powered sand boats, their “sarfers.”

The nomads seem to have some idea of ​​what lies beyond, but they voice their warnings to Rob, albeit based on a better understanding of the mined technology than anyone else in the desert, in almost oracular rhetoric. It is not clear that they even know about the mines and the organized towns beyond the desert.

Often, a long pause can be a sign that an author has had to retread a property they don’t particularly like. The gap in time can cause a shift in tone as his writing unfolds or a blur of focus as he steps away from the world he was building eight years ago.

Those drawbacks aren’t apparent to Howey here, but it’s clear that in the intervening time he’s doubled down on the teen focus to keep the “Sand Chronicles” much closer to the YA crossover audience he generated with his “Bern Saga” about the heroine. Teen molly fyde and his adventures in space.

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

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