By Chuck Wendig
There seem to be a worryingly large number of ways we, as a species, could become extinct. From huge extra terrestrial rocks hurtling through space or climate change making our world uninhabitable to Trump pressing the wrong button at the wrong time. A virus that seems to strike at random, causing the infected to become catatonic but wonder along seemingly oblivious as a collective herd sounds like an uncomfortable way to go. The lack of any pattern and obvious cause is even more concerning - as are the growing crowds of "wanderers" that despite no observable method of communication, manage to flock together on their mystery journey.
Figuring out just whats going on forms the basis of Chuck Wendig's new novel, Wanderers.
Wendig writes characters that are relate-able, realistic (often fatalistic) and full of life. The characters in Wanderers are no exception. This group also seem to tap into the vein of Americans make the news lately. From over-the-top religious types and white-supremacists to NRA gun nuts - all of which seem to make up a large part of Trumps followers (there is even a presidential candidate with parallels to the current President). Thankfully there are a few more "sensible" (or centerist) people - such as the teenager Shana (accompanied in a rickety old UV by her Dad), who is thrust right into the middle of this maelstrom when her sister becomes the first "wanderer" and Shana becomes the first "Shepherd". There is also the very modern character of an artificial intelligence construct known as "Black Swan" - who seems to have some mysterious connection to events.
It's a journey that takes us through the very bedrock of modern America, from the increasingly extreme political divides and the strange reality that is "alternative facts" to the small but highly vocal groups who have decided they don't need helpful modern things like vaccines or to listen to the worlds scientists when they mention the world is burning. These are amongst the people who would like to re-write the history books to show that dinosaurs cohabited the earth with humans just 7000 years ago, (perhaps in their minds the Dinosaurs died out from falling off the edge of the world).
As a result, Wanderers, like other apocalyptic novels, is very much a product of the current environment, a timestamp in history as to how people today might deal with such a cataclysm - or more accurately, how ill-suited we are to deal with such a collapse of society. One of Wendig's messages is that people today, like they often have in the past, give in to fear - and this fear is often the major driver of these extreme actions - from the climate deniers sticking their head in the sand, to the aggressive racists who fear anything that's different to their narrow world-view - and who's outlet for such fear is all-too-often violence.
It's not the shortest of books, at 800 pages it could probably do some serious damage to a climate denier, but it doesn't feel like a big book - partly due to the authors confident and clever writing. It's also due to the way the author takes the reader down little side roads, examining the lives of some of these colourful characters before joining back up to the main story. Much of the book deals with pre-apocalypse and there is a big game changing shock half-way through that totally changes the dynamics. It's a serious book, but is rife with the authors dark humour and fluid prose and even though it's dealing with the end of the world, it's not as dark and doom-ridden as many apocalyptic stories become.
Wanderers is a powerful book, examining not just the current social and political status of America but also exploring science, the power of technology and the ideas of good versus evil. An immersive, clever book and one of the best examples of apocalyptic fiction this side of The Stand.
Written on 22nd July 2019 by Ant .