A nightmarish disease has attacked a small but growing group of people in rural America. They are walking, zombie-like, across the country together. Nobody knows where they’re going or why. They can’t be communicated with and they can’t be stopped. Some of their family and friends follow behind, trying to keep them safe.
The CDC is investigating, trying to track down the origins of this strange outbreak. Homeland Security is worried that it’s a biological weapon. POTUS can’t decide whether or not she should send in the military. The uncertainty is causing panic across the country.
The stress brings out the best in some people, but the worst in others.
Some of these characters are:
- the sister of the first sleepwalker, who has struggled with her relationship with their father after her mother left home
- the good-hearted science-fiction loving pastor of a small country church who will be tempted when he is offered a pathway to fame and fortune
- a white supremacist who sees an opportunity to gain followers and push his agenda
- an aging rockstar who can’t stand being out of the limelight
- an ex-cop with brain damage who thinks she can hear what the walkers are thinking
- a former CDC investigator who was fired after an ethics breach
- a current CDC employee who may know more than she’s telling
- an artificial intelligence that almost seems conscious
For better or worse, all of these people will affect the future of the world.
Wanderers (2019) is a long (24.5 hours in audio format) novel that explores the fall-out that may occur if we ever experience a disease outbreak that threatens all of humanity. Chuck Wendig gives us a good description of how, in that situation, chaos will beget more chaos.
Wanderers also addresses issues that America (and the world) is currently dealing with — climate change, xenophobia, immigration, racism, gun control, drug addiction, drug resistance, and extremely ugly politics.
The novel moves slowly (it was too long) and there were some scenes that were too brutal for my sensibilities, but the story is suspenseful, emotional, and sometimes exciting.
Wanderers is well-researched and I learned some interesting things about epidemiology, such as how the CDC investigates disease outbreaks, and how this must be done in a culturally sensitive way. Throughout the novel, Wendig challenges us with the various ethical dilemmas his characters face. The end reveal leaves us with another existential challenge — a frightening one that we weren’t expecting.
For fun: I am certain that this is the first time I’ve been rickrolled while reading a science fiction novel. Thanks, Chuck.
Random House Audio’s edition is narrated by Xe Sands (female POVs) and Dominic Hoffman (male POVs). Xe is one of my favorite audiobook narrators and, as expected, she gives us a great performance. Dominic Hoffman is also wonderful. If you’re going to read Wanderers, I recommend this edition.