Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a free copy of this form NetGalley for review.
I’m generally rooting for the end of humanity most days anymore, but if the apocalypse is gonna involve this much walking then I’ll be pretty angry about it because I’d much rather sit on my ass while the asteroid hits or the nukes fly or the zombies start gnawing on me.
A small group of people in rural Pennsylvania start walking in a trance like state one day. They can’t be snapped out of it, needles for sedatives won’t penetrate their skin, and if you try to physically stop one of them things get awfully messy. They don’t need food or water, and they absolutely will not stop. As they move across the country more and more people start joining them.
The public gets increasingly freaked out by these walkers, and a variety of people get pulled into the situation. A tough teenager frantically tries to take care of her younger sister who was the first to start walking. A former CDC doctor who trashed his career for a noble lie tries to learn the cause of the sleepwalking. An aging rock star runs away from his messy life to join the people shepherding the walkers. A preacher begins publicly painting the walkers as harbingers of the apocalypse, and he’s handsomely rewarded for his efforts by a pack of right wing conspiracy theorists who are backing a lying sack of shit for president. Behind it all is a secret that is either the salvation of humanity or its dooooooomm!!
I’ve got mixed very feelings on this one. There’s a lot of stuff I liked, particularly some of the core idea of what’s behind the sleepwalkers once it all gets revealed. There was a pretty cool and clever story to all of that. Wendig also has a readable style that keeps you turning pages, and he’s built up an intriguing scenario here that really held my interest for the first couple of hundred pages. But then the problems started creeping in.
First off, this is way too long. I’m glad I got an e-copy because it’s gotta be a real kitten squisher in print form. And it just doesn’t seem that necessary. There are big swaths of the story where not that much happens. Yeah, some of that was trying to develop characters, but it really doesn’t matter though because for the most part these people are still exactly who I thought they were the entire time. Unfortunately, that means that they’re all jerks or pushovers from start to finish.
Even the ones you’re supposed to sympathize with the most I found irritating and weak. Shana, the older sister of one of the first walkers, is supposed to the tough teenager with a chip on her shoulder, but it all seems like posturing because all she ever really does is be snarky to people. Benjy, the disgraced CDC doctor, should be our hero, but he seems so naïve, helpless, and completely overwhelmed at all times that there’s nothing there to root for. And some of that would make sense in a book like this where people would feel insignificant when faced with something like this, but the structure of the scenario leaves them so little to actually do that they feel completely pointless.
In fact, this entire novel is incredibly passive, and the people in it really don’t matter that much at the end of the day. There’s a few minor things they try to accomplish here and there, but usually they even screw that up. You could take every single other character out of this book and just make it about the sleepwalkers while eventually revealing what’s behind them, and the entire story pretty much ends up exactly where it eventually does. I also didn’t care for what seems like a sequel set up in the end. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Wendig left plenty of room to return. I’d be more interested in that if I thought that any characters in the book might actually be able to impact the story.
Overall, I didn’t hate this one, but the potential it had early on seems to just fade away as the book goes on and on.
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