Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Chuck Wendig was never one to let a good and original idea go to waste, and in his novel Wanderers he presents a truly unique idea, something which happens less and less often in this world. In essence, it tells the story of an ever-growing flock of sleepwalkers journeying across America, their friends and family protecting them along the way, and the society around them which begins to collapse, some even seeking their deaths.
Table of contents
Chuck Wendig Casts the Veil of Sleep
Despite the real world being very much a place full of horror and sadness at every turn, most of us still manage to get through it without too much trouble by insulating ourselves from a large part of reality. For the majority of us, we don’t necessarily spend our days seeking out the most gruesome and depressing news imaginable… we attempt to ward off the misery of the world by blinding ourselves to the events which don’t concern us, something I believe to be necessary for a lifelong retention of one’s sanity. In Chuck Wendig‘s Wanderers, all those vile elements come crawling to the surface as a strange new apocalypse is taking over mankind.
The story begins by introducing us to Shana, a young lady who wakes up one day to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange phenomenon akin to sleepwalking. She cannot be spoken to nor woken up, and she simply marches forward with determination to some unknown destination. Unable to really stop her, Shana decides to follow along with her sister, playing the shepherd and hopefully keeping her out of danger.
It doesn’t take much time for them to be joined by other people on the road in the exact same situation: sleepwalkers accompanied by their faithful wards. The flock keeps on growing and growing, to the point where the country is facing a very real epidemic, one nobody can begin to understand. In the wake of this malady, society begins to tear at the seams and crumble, devolving into a vista of human savagery.
While a few are still devoted to unravelling the mystery behind the epidemic, there are others who are hell-bent on exterminating the flock… and they have no idea of the unfathomable stakes for which they oppose each other. Salvation and damnation, both within arm’s reach.
The Walk of the Damned
First of all, I would like to begin by saying Wanderers ought to be examined from two different perspectives: the story and the message the author is trying to send… so let us begin with the former. While I’m not one hundred percent sure how original the premise is, I certainly can’t recall anything similar off the top of my head, so it definitely earns some points from in this regard. I was legitimately captivated by the idea of this slow and silent apocalypse, one which forces humanity to unravel itself, rather than outright exterminating it.
Somehow, the disappearance of coffee feels worse than the disappearance of all humankind.― Chuck Wendig, Wanderers
The path towards the truth certainly has a few fun twists and turns along the way, as well as a few scenes of ultra-violence here and there, although truth be told, I had the impression they existed mostly because the author felt they needed to be here due to the post-apocalyptic nature of the novel. There is a good amount of tension which comes with our switching perspectives between the sleepwalkers and other elements of society as we bear witness to how despised and vilified they have become.
Along the road travelled by our protagonists we get to meet a host of interesting characters from virtually all walks of life. I will admit some of them felt a bit one-dimensional or cartoonish in their defining characteristics, but ultimately they served their purposes as small and specific reflections of certain social elements.
As we meet more and more new people, both good and bad, we also slowly advance our personal investigation into the malady gripping the land, and in my opinion the author did a fairly good job at keeping our interest on this mystery. While we might be used to happy endings these days, it never felt like a guarantee in Wanderers, which for me is an additional notch in its belt.
The Big Social Statement
As I mentioned above, there are two primary perspectives from which Wanderers ought to be judged, and the second one is the author’s political and social statement, which plays a major role in the book, for better or for worse. I imagine this part doesn’t really appeal to the people who are just looking for an apocalyptic-type story, and if you’re one of those people, then I am sorry to say it cannot really be avoided.
Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.― Chuck Wendig, Wanderers
It largely felt to me as Wendig used the story as a vehicle to discuss the modern world and the politics prevalent in it, to the point where he manages to weave it into virtually every chapter, with some cases being a tad less subtle than others.
There are even a few passages which gave me the impression the plot and story were put on pause so the author might express himself and draw parallels with the modern world. Personally-speaking, I am always interested in hearing other people’s political opinions as long as they are well-founded and logically-argued, and for the most part Wendig‘s commentary falls into this category.
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However, perhaps due to the nature of the story and the vile, unseen elements of our world Wendig chooses to focus on, there are some segments which simply feel like rants decrying all the bad people of our world. I felt like I was being hit over the head with the author’s point a little too much for my taste, and I would be lying if I didn’t say Wanderers would be better without such a strong and obvious connection to our world.
Nevertheless, I do understand the author’s desire to express himself, especially with his writing ability, and thus I personally cannot judge him too harshly for wanting to voice his truest, deepest thoughts on the world he lives in.
The Final Verdict
Despite being loaded with political commentary which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is, in my opinion, a solid and curious post-apocalyptic novel with some original elements to it as well as a few social criticisms worth pondering over. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, so I would only recommend it if the elements I mentioned above don’t sound too unattractive for your taste.
Chuck Wendig is an American author, screenwriter, comic book writer and blogger. His 2015 novel Aftermath started out ranked #4 on The New York Times as well as USA Today’s best seller lists.
He has also written various comics for Dynamite Entertainment, Dark Circle Comics and Marvel Comics. In 2013 he had the distinction of being a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.