Remember back in CBR5 when we all read Wool and Shift and Dust (also known as the Shift Omnibus) and we all loved them and couldn’t stop talking about Hugh Howey? That trilogy was smart and exciting and we were all fired up about this new name in dystopian sci-fi. A guy who had self-published and made a success out of himself. The story was inspiring and the books were great. We even did a book discussion over on Pajiba, and I truly thought we would be hearing a lot more from Hugh Howey over in our little corner of the internet.
So, when I saw Sand on sale for some ridiculously low price for my Kindle one day, I snatched it up.
And Sand isn’t bad. But it’s no Wool.
Sand takes place in an unknown time in the future, somewhere in Colorado. The world is now one where sand is everywhere. Constantly swallowing up anything that dares to be built in this harsh environment, the sand controls everything and everyone.
Some are daring enough to become “divers,” wearing special suits and boots that allow them to maneuver through the sand as if it were water, with tanks of oxygen on their backs and heat-sensor goggles that let them know what exactly they’re seeing down deep in the sand.
When the story starts, a pair of young divers are brought miles away from town to a secret camp site where some strange construction is happening. They are offered the chance to go on the dive of a lifetime — hundreds of meters below is believed to be the ruins of the city of Danvar, or Denver than was. The divers who find Danvar will go down in history as the greatest of all time, and the bounty down below will be a treasure trove for scavengers.
But the men running the camp site can’t be trusted, and the young divers aren’t rewarded for what they find.
At this point in the story, I was fascinated. The technology and the world created by Howey was unlike anything I had read before, and I wanted to know what happened next.
But what happened next wasn’t nearly as interesting or exciting. Basically, Sand turned into a family drama with bits and pieces of cool dystopian details thrown in.
One of the divers from the first section, Palmer, is from a family of divers and con men. His father, long disappeared, was a great diver but left his family with nothing. His mother does what she can to survive, including selling herself to the highest bidder. His sister is probably the greatest diver alive, but she hangs out with the wrong sort of people to be taken seriously. And his two younger brothers just want to be old enough to dive.
And I really didn’t care. There was some mystery about a secret society on the other side of the mountains, a missing half-sister, and an atomic bomb. But again, I didn’t much care.
What I wanted more of was the sand. The sailboats that the divers raced across the dunes in. The abandoned and pristine buildings of ancient Denver hundreds of feet below the surface. The constant attempts to move and work with the sand. This stuff was genius and these parts shone.
And like the end of the Shift stories, the ending was a bit muddled for me. I think I know what happened, but honestly, I’m not 100% sure. And it didn’t really matter to me either way.
I’m not done with my Hugh Howey experiment. If anyone has any suggestions on another title to try, I’m happy to give it a chance. I didn’t hate this one, I just wish this had been more about the sand and less about these particular people.