High-concept science fiction doesn’t always have to explore the future. It can also be used as a tool to twist reality, to observe the human condition under extreme circumstances. Sand Castle is a good example, taking 13 people of various ages and compacting their lifetimes into 24 hours. By visiting a secluded beach, they find themselves in a nightmare world, where time moves so quickly that people age, and ultimately die, in hours instead of years.
The story revolves around the actions of the characters as they try to escape or come to terms with their predicament. We witness the whole breadth of the human condition, from birth, through puberty and adulthood, to death. While the characters mourn the passing of their elderly relatives, they must contemplate their own accelerated mortality, and the mystery of the beach they’re stuck on.
It’s crammed with metaphors of humanity, from a racist distrust of people who are different, through to the hope of more tolerance in future generations. The sexual awakening of puberty and its connection to the wonder of new life is explored. All of life is to be found here, and it’s both disturbing and enlightening to watch it unfold so quickly.
Frederik Peeters’ art is well suited to the piece. His gentle caricatures strike a good balance between realism and cartoon. The style of the art brings out the humanity of the characters and their situation, without abstracting the horror. His faces are emotionally rich, leaving the reader in little doubt of what’s going through their minds.
This is intelligent stuff, beautifully executed, and a showcase of what comics can perform. It leaves too many mysteries unanswered to be a wholly satisfying experience but is otherwise executed with skill, style and aplomb.