Last of the Sandwalkers
Readers picking up LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS --- a graphic novel starring anthropomorphic bugs --- might expect a “cute” tale similar to the movies Antz or A Bug’s Life. However, this book manages to capture something rare --- the spirit of scientific curiosity and exploration merged seamlessly with a story of a family succeeding against incredible odds. It's a testament to the writer (and illustrator) that the rhetoric manages to be both educational and political but never overshadows what is an incredibly entertaining story. Plus, it adds in a great sense of humor, a powerful message and artwork that is surprisingly epic.
For fans of programs like the Neil deGrasse Tyson-narrated Cosmos, this book will feel like an old friend, following a group of insect-scientists setting out from their city and home in a desert oasis to try and prove that life exists beyond. They are pushing against convention and the religious belief of many in the city that life outside the oasis is impossible, that they are alone and that beyond there is only sand and demons.
However, Lucy, the leader of the expedition, believes that these traditional ideas are incorrect --- there is evidence that seems to support that the bugs of the oasis are part of something larger. Of course, just as her expedition seems to confirm her scientific theories, she is betrayed by a religious zealot intent on preserving the “truth” of his beliefs, the same beliefs that secure him wealth and power.
This book manages to capture something rare --- the spirit of scientific curiosity and exploration merged seamlessly with a story of a family succeeding against incredible odds.
So, I should point out that the book isn't necessarily unpolitical. By that, though, I don't mean to say that it's inherently Left or Right. Instead, it draws parallels between the religious and scientific struggles that have driven discovery in our own world and those that Lucy and her family face in their culture. In both, the tendency for religion to try and offer a narrative for the universe that doesn't allow for testing or complication leads to inquisitive minds being stifled, at times forcefully and violently. Lucy and her family are perceived as a threat because of their ideas, so they are threatened and finally attacked. Only their dedication to each other and to pushing the bounds of insect knowledge allows them to overcome the difficulties they face, which include but are not limited to hungry spiders, giant bats, a perilous flight through the upper air currents and a battle with a particularly angry beetle in a mech-suit.
There is just such a feeling of discovery and scale in LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS, which makes it a compelling and fun read. It's a family story, one that focuses on how family is what you make and not necessarily who you're related to by blood. The characters are memorable and complex, and the plot moves quickly, with humorous and cute moments balancing out the heavier and darker themes. It's also full of interesting information about insects, about these small worlds that in LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS seem so large and boundless. The scale and setting of the story is what really makes it work, what makes the science pop. Focusing on such a small scale makes what is human both immense and tiny; humanity becomes just another level, with the Earth being our oasis and the universe beyond a place ripe with possibilities. For budding scientists or anyone who wants to enjoy a refreshing and novel story with some great art and solid humor, LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS is well worth a close look.
Reviewed by Charles Payseur on April 22, 2015
Last of the Sandwalkers
- Publication Date: April 7, 2015
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: First Second
- ISBN-10: 162672024X
- ISBN-13: 9781626720244