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Dystopian fiction from a fresh new perspective

dystopian fictionA review of Sand (Omnibus Edition), by Hugh Howey

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Well over a century after Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, you might think that science fiction writers would run out of new material. In fact, some have: they write traditional space operas or dystopian novels that give the genre a bad name, oblivious to the fact that these themes were worked to death in the pulp magazines of the 30s and 40s. But Hugh Howey, one of the current crop of brilliant young writers in the field, proves that he’s capable of imagining strange new worlds, populating them with fascinating characters, and constructing plots worthy of the best detective novelists. Sand is a case in point.

Like Wool (the Silo Series) and Beacon 23, Sand was published in dribs and drabs on Amazon for the Kindle and later collected into an Omnibus Edition. Also like Howey’s other novels, Sand demonstrates his seemingly boundless imagination. The book is set in Colorado in the distant future when the state’s familiar cities — Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo — lie buried under half a mile of sand. On the surface of this desert a pathetic population of survivors ekes out the semblance of a living under the domination of a small group of powerful people called Lords who live in relative comfort in the lee of a massive wall which protects them from the steady accumulation of sand. The focus is on two brothers and a sister in a family that was once among the wealthy but now lives in poverty, where life appears to be much as Thomas Hobbes described it nearly four centuries ago: “nasty, brutish, and short.”

The magical device that makes this novel work — and takes it into the realm of fantasy — is a bit of advanced technology that has somehow survived whatever disaster produced this dystopian nightmare. With special boots and a metal headband that’s wired through a version of a diving suit, highly skilled young people are able to dive hundreds of meters down into the sand. The plot in Sand revolves around the search for the fabled ancient city of Danvar. (Guess!) It’s a hoot.

Hugh Howey has written a slew of science fiction novels and short stories as well as a number of nonfiction books as well. It’s only a matter of time before he starts winning Hugo and Nebula awards.

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Categorised in: Science Fiction, Trade Fiction