By Clare B. Dunkle. New York: Atheneum, 2009.
How should an author prepare to write a sequel? Should she know everything about the next book before the first book ends? I don't think so. When I wrote The Hollow Kingdom, I had no idea Nir or Sable existed. I knew only what puzzled and interested me most about the story I had just completed. And when I finished The Sky Inside, I knew only two things about its sequel: the secret identity of Chip and the appearance of the marble statue of the Savior of the Nation. Not much to go on, right?
But that's good. If I don't know what will take place in a sequel, I can't give away its story by dropping too many hints in the first book. I can still surprise my readers because I'm surprising myself. Anything might happen.
Why did I have to know Chip's identity? Because I had to know what the dog could and couldn't do. Casual readers have remarkeded that Chip seems able to do anything, but a careful reader knows that isn't true. Chip couldn't save Martin from Sim. Why not? He couldn't trick Hertz. Why not? He hasn't done what Sim and Martin have managed to do: overcome a bot by force. What rules is Chip using to process his next move? Without knowing what he is, I wouldn't know this.
One of the great advantages of science fiction is that it acts as a kind of laboratory, allowing the writer to experiment with different societal pressures to see what might result. When I wrote The Sky Inside, I asked, not What if we all die in some sort of human-caused disaster? but What if our society has managed to control population growth, foster scientific inquiry, restore our balance with the environment, and provide a high standard of living even to those on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder? What will we have gained in this process? And what will we have lost?
This sort of exploration is fine in a first book: the limits and problems of a society make interesting reading. It poses difficulties for a sequel, however, because having raised these problems about a particular society, we now want to find a solution. But there are no easy solutions to the problems facing a society, and no society can ever be perfect.
This explains why some of our favorite science fiction stories have become more and more grandiose as subsequent books or movies have come out, until finally they have lost their credibility by attempting to solve every problem their fictitious societies have ever encountered. Wars end, inequality ends, the entire corrupt multi-planet government is swept aside, and peace reigns throughout the galaxy. Believable? Not really.
In The Walls Have Eyes, I deliberately avoided epic sweep and kept the focus where it had been in the first book: on our ordinary hero, Martin. Sure, we want things to work out well for the rest of Martin's fellow citizens, but this two-book series is, first and foremost, a story about a boy and his family. During the sequel, rather than take a broad perspective, I kept circling back to help Martin interact with the people who had become important to him in the first book.
We humans are social creatures. Maybe we don't care about Society with a capital S, but we ought to care about our little slice of society: our family and friends, as well as those people who have helped us or who need our help. Martin's suburb hasn't taught him this, but perhaps the wilderness can. Martin escaped a stuffy suburb and experienced a world without limitations in The Sky Inside. But in this book, Martin learns just how hard it can be to face the world alone.