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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Review: Sand Omnibus

Hugh Howey has written yet another novel in the tradition of Wool, his previous post-apocalyptic world. In many ways, this novel amplifies both the strengths and the weaknesses of his previous novels.

Howey can write a compelling plot in cliff-hanger style. He can weave multiple threads of narratives together. What he can't do is create a world that's believable, nor can he do character development. Nearly everyone's a 2D character to start, and they don't change much, no matter what.

Sand is set in a world where the deserts are taking over the USA from the East to West. (This in itself is unrealistic, since prevailing winds are West to East and deserts should spread that way) Taking place in Colorado, the inhabitants of this world face the constantly encroaching sand, burying their houses, forcing them to build higher and higher, while constantly bailing sand away from critical infrasturcture like wells.

In a steady state world, this doesn't make sense, since dunes don't actually build up into infinity, so Howey has to explain that, and it's part of the plot of the book. There's also no explanation of where food came from, no mention of livestock, and no understanding of how even foundations can work in this environment.

What there is, however, is no shortage of cool toys. There are sarfers, sailboats used to traverse sand, and there's sand diving equipment, very similar to diving equipment used in water today, but obviously, with sand traversal and vision in mind. Howey does a decent job of working out the implications of the existence of such equipment, and uses these tools marvelously in the plot.

All in all, this is a decent airplane novel, and at the prices Howey's books usually come in (I read it for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription), is worth picking up. But is it stellar? No, it's more like a throwback to the old days of science fiction where the writers didn't even have scientific backgrounds and didn't do any research for their novels. Still, much like Wool, it was compellingly readable.

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