HomeAll postsMinds of Sand and Light by Kylie Chan

Minds of Sand and Light by Kylie Chan

A review by Nalini Haynes

Ruth and Carrie run a small indie journalism outfit while trying to break the big stories. Zeng is a brain-in-a-box switching from chassis to chassis to fight Britain for their country, the Greater Far East (GFE). And a council of AIs fight the GFE. While planning the destruction of humanity. I think the minds of sand and light are human and AIs respectively.


Chan doesn’t explicitly describe characters straight off. Instead, over a period of time we learn that Ruth is a Black woman who needs a satin cap to protect her hair while she sleeps. And Cassie is a trans woman facing bigotry from the patriarchal AIs. I thought she was Bipoc until relatively late in the story when I realized she’s white.

Chan’s portrayal of race, class and gender is eloquent without preaching. Her AIs’ choice of human appearance speaks volumes.

At two points wheelchairs appear in “cameos”. Cameos for the chairs not the characters. The second appearance is so far after what was probably “the accident” it’s unclear if it was part of recovery or… what? Not sure. I do like destigmatizing of wheelchairs in principle but I found the sudden appearance disconcerting. Unless I missed something? Maybe.

Character development

Minds of Sand and Light appeals to me primarily for two reasons: the scifi story and the characters. Particularly how the characters – especially the AIs – reveal themselves to the reader and their development. AIs feud. Another is a voyeur who emotes creatively.

I was, however, a teeny bit disappointed that Chan’s technology created such human-like chassis for the AIs. A bit more of a barrier, a bit more AI creativity, would have been fun and interesting when it comes to sex. Don’t make it too easy, please!

Near future or far future?

At first I thought Minds of Sand and Light was a near future scifi novel, extrapolating China’s current political stance and culture. However, one of the characters was born in… 2038 I think? And isn’t exactly young. So not so much “near” future.

Visualizing the story

Minds of Sand and Light focuses more on ideas and characters than visuals for readers. Mostly this is a good thing: if you’re not a poet, laborious prose just slows the narrative. However, Chan kept throwing me because the “platform” or chassis in which various entities were housed kept changing. Sometimes it was a roomba, at others a human. It was often unclear until well into a scene what the “platform” was. As a reader I kept doing a “double take”.

Then close to the end of the story Chan mentions that cars are flying or hovering or something. Up until then, I visualized all vehicles as contemporary machines.

“Wait, what?!” was a theme!

Greater Far East

The GFE or Greater Far East name for what is obviously the new China really irritates. What government anywhere that isn’t a puppet for someone like Britain would give itself a Brit-centric name like “Greater Far East”? A name like “the bright shining Centre of the world” is much more likely!

The verdict

Minds of Sand and Light began as an interesting scifi story/setting whose characters sucked me in. Diverse characters conscious of biases in human interactions, a global cold-to-warm war, and impending self-inflicted doom for humanity make for a great story. The story isn’t flawless but it’s well worth a read. Fans of William Gibson’s Peripheral should appreciate this book.

I reviewed Agency, the sequel to Peripheral, here. If someone would like to explain why this series, titled The Jackpot Trilogy, consists of 2 books that’d be great, thanks.

Book details

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781460763735
ISBN10: 1460763734
Imprint: Voyager AU (HarperCollins)
Released: 2023
Pages: 352
Categories: FICTION, Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, speculative fiction

Minds of Sand and Light bookcover: a woman looks to the left. The cover looks distorted from poor transmission.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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