Sand, Wool, and That Moment of Understanding


I’ve been lending new meaning to the word voracious in my consumption of Hugh Howey’s books over the past couple of weeks. Ever since a friend of mine lent me Sand Omnibus and then Wool Omnibus, I’ve been battering through them earnestly.

It’s not often I find an author whose work makes me want to read quickly and slowly all at once. Quickly, because the man is a helluva story-teller. Slowly, because I know he’s not writing ‘em as fast as I can read them.

One particular reason that I’ve been enjoying these books is that they take place in my absolute favorite setting: post-apocalyptic Earth. I don’t know what dark wrinkle in my psyche makes me hanker after tales of Earth transformed by disaster and destruction, but some of my favorite stories are along those lines. In fact, I’ve even written a currently unpublishable, cringingly derivative novella set in a grim future.

For me the core of these stories — the exquisite moment that can make even the dullest example of the genre shine — is the reveal, big or little. That moment when you realize that the little spike coming out of the ice is actually the top of what we know as the Empire State Building. The part where you realize that the long, odd sounding word the savages keep chanting is actually a garbled portmanteau of a common present-day phrase.

The best writers keep this moment back, long enough for you to have completely accepted that their characters exist in some completely unconnected, wholly fictional world. Then they smack you with it. WHAP! You experience a pleasure — as all the little cues and hints slide into place in the matrix of your experience — that’s the same as finishing a jigsaw puzzle, or getting rid of multiple lines in Tetris.

Is there a name for this sudden, pleasurable recognition?