“That is how science and medicine are practiced best, though—we are best when we admit our ignorance up front, and then attempt to fill the darkness of not-knowing with the light of information and knowledge.” —from The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
One morning in rural Pennsylvania, Shana’s younger sister Nessa gets up out her bed in a sort of trance and silently walks out of the house and just keeps walking. After trying to stop her, the protective Shana starts following and gradually they are joined by more walkers and other protectors. As this silent ‘flock’ and its ‘shepherds’ grow in size on their strange route west, it eventually attracts the attention of the CDC which sends scientists to determine what sort of epidemic is causing random people along their route to drop everything and become part of this flock. Trying to stop a walker causes them to literally explode so they continue walking without interference. Once the news media picks up on this phenomena, politicians’ reactions are divided along party lines, and the president orders the walkers to be protected or otherwise left alone. In the absence of any political answers as to the cause of the walkers’ condition, the flock becomes a focus of religious paramilitary zealots who believe they are a warning from God of the coming end times. The flock also attracts a washed-up rock star who needs some publicity to reboot his career and a young preacher whose faith is wavering as his congregation declines. Finally, the president gives the scientists a deadline to figure out what’s causing the walkers’ condition before the military steps in to imprison them to protect the nation.
The Wanderers is not a book about zombies nor is it a typical apocalyptic story about the end of the world. It is, however, a beautifully written novel with fully developed characters dealing with a seemingly out-of-control phenomena in a world that feels tensely divided very much like ours of today. Wendig asks the reader to consider where people look for answers and solace in times of crisis—-religion? Science? Love? Military force? Rock music? Artificial intelligence?
This was a long book, but I flew through it because I was completely engaged with the characters and needed to know what would happen to the people I had come to know and care about. The world Wendig describes feels very much like ours of today and he made me wonder how we might respond today if faced with a strange, growing and inexplicable sort of epidemic. Despite the book’s grim themes, Wendig left this reader feeling somewhat hopeful about the possibility that reason and good will can prevail even in the darkest of times. The Wanderers by Chuck Wendig would be perfect for fans of Stephen King and Michael Crichton.