Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Solaris, hb, £18.99
Reviewed by John C. Adams
Odd things are happening to people all over the world. From Okayama Prefecture in Japan to Maker’s Bell in Pennsylvania, the thread that unites them lies at the heart of this story.
This novel is a thoughtful contribution to the post-apocalyptic genre, a part of fiction I’ve loved from childhood having grown up reading the novels of British Science Fiction writer John Wyndham. Back then, we lived with the daily threat of nuclear holocaust and, as if that wasn’t enough, we frequently turned our suspicious gaze to the heavens and wondered what was coming for us from the far corners of the galaxy. Right now, we are our own worst enemies.
Chuck Wendig is a best-selling New York Times writer. This book has received, among other praise, a starred Kirkus review where comparison was made with Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. As I read it, I could see the force of this observation. For its attention to the viral aspects of horror amid a total breakdown in the norms of our everyday lives, it also reminded me of ‘A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising’.
‘Wanderers’ provides an intimate portrait of how realistically flawed families and everyday people respond to the challenge of unusual events. When Shana discovers her younger sister’s bed is empty, she assumes that Nessie has run away to find the mother who abandoned them years earlier or maybe that she’s sleepwalking. In fact, Nessie is suffering from fits that entirely subsume her identity. These quickly spread to other members of their rural community. Meanwhile, in Utah, a murder-suicide is keeping investigators busy. But in Atlanta, Sadie Emeka thinks she knows what’s causing the outbreak in Pennsylvania, and she’s determined to get the attention of those knowledgeable enough to counter the threat. She starts with former Centre for Disease Control doctor Benji Ray.
One of the strengths of this novel was the attention paid to explaining how threats are identified and managed. The portrait of Black Swan, a predictive tool used to analyse mass data to understand odd events and foresee their specific occurrences was really fascinating. I like a side helping of statistical theory with my action thriller! And I just loved the mathematics of how f*ckwits on the Internet helped to spread the panic as the story developed. Utterly plausible.
Our world is a pretty scary place, but the fact that we read novels like ‘Wanderers’ with a profound sense of fascination twinned with an indomitable optimism that this future can still be avoided (rather than as a ‘How To’ manual to prepare for the inevitable) gives me hope for a better tomorrow. And it should.
This was a wonderful story not just for its vision of a future that could easily become a terrifying reality, but also for its techno feel of today combined with riveting characters fighting against a system that just won’t put people first.
It had everything. Film deal, anyone?