Written by Chuck Wendig

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

RRP: £18.99
Released: July 11 2019

This book is a true epic, one that is a totally immersive reading experience. The beauty of Wendig’s writing, the audacity of the novel’s execution, its complex and utterly original plot makes the reader’s chest compress and hands applaud until the skin becomes red and raw.  It will live long in the memory of the reader, for it has an uncommon insight into our current situation, and where technology may lead us.

Do not get fearful of its heft, because those 800 pages pass, far too fast as the reader becomes lost in the narrative, and the troubling thoughts that come into the mind.

Set in the very near future, not dissimilar to that of today’s America under Donald Trump; the setting is laid for an adventure tale that foretells a coming apocalypse.  

There is a comet, there is a virus, a bacterium a fungal infection, and there are the strands flowing from a machine intelligence. And then there are the sleepwalkers [the eponymous Wanderers]. Protecting them are their families, the shepherds as well as agents from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control [CDC].

When patient zero the young “Nessie” Stewart falls into a trance, a purposeful zombie-like walk, her older sister Shana and their father follow her. Nessie is unresponsive. Her strident walk cannot be stopped.  Soon other sleepwalkers join Nessie and her family as they march onward. They are also feared by some – declared pilgrims of the devil, or some bio-terrorist plot from Africa or the Middle-East.

Despite this outlandish and weird opening; dread and reflections upon the divisions in American society are examined though Wendig’s novel – like a prism diffracting the light from our reality.

Politically, we have Ed Creel a right-wing politician battling the liberal incumbent at the White House, President Nora Hunt. Creel uses his influence on the evangelicals and the disaffected in his race to overturn Hunt’s liberal agenda.  His methods are filled with hate and rhetoric, blaming others for the misfortune in the lives of those ‘left behind’ by the economic turmoil caused (in part) by technology.

Enter Benji [aka Dr Benjamin Ray], a former disgraced scientist from the CDC now recruited by a mysterious woman named Sadie Emeka to investigate the sleepwalker phenomenon. She works for a technology company called Benex-Voyager that is a contractor to the CDC. Sadie developed a computer program named ‘Black Swan’ that the CDC use in predicting epidemic and pandemic outbreaks internationally. She tells Benji that she has clout with the CDC’s deputy director Loretta Shustack, and can get the scientist re-instated, as long as he joins her in a team (with former colleagues from Atlanta), investigating the growing numbers of sleepwalking wanderers.  When Dr Ray asks why he has been asked to join the team considering his vilification by the senior management at the CDC [for an incident at a pig farm in North Carolina]. She explains that his name came directly from her computer program ‘Black Swan’. She elucidates that ‘Black Swan’ is in fact far more than just a computer algorithm, or lines of computer code. It’s an artificial intelligence, with a full array of A.I. abilities within its binary structure.

So Benji joins Sadie, and former colleagues from the CDC, as they follow these sleepwalkers, trying to understand the malady that has overcome them, and if there is a purpose to their somnambulism. The followers of these sleepwalkers increase in number with the Media, Police, an aging [and narcissistic] Rock-Star named Pete Corley, and a ‘damaged’ cop; all forming a procession traversing America.

Observing this situation, a growing band of extreme militia-men led by the unspeakable Ozark Stover see these wanderers as a sign of the coming of the end-times. At their heart, these men led by Stover are white supremacists, and into their rank comes a preacher named Matthew, who reluctantly falls under their spell, his faith at odds to what he sees around him.

Then a deadly fungal infection which may [or may not be related] to these sleepwalkers appears. It is named ‘White Mask’ after the coating that appears on the faces of the infected.

The sleepwalkers and their entourage [now termed ‘the flock’] continue their journey, though Stover and his heavily armed gang have other plans. They see these wanderers as either instruments of Satan or a foreign terrorist weapon, so they attempt to stop the mysterious sleepwalkers, using deadly force.

‘White Mask’ appears to be a disease that has 100% mortality in humans, and is resistant to any known medication. The race to find a cure or method of halting the progress of the disease comes to centre stage.

There are vivid sequences that will rest in the memory due to the vivid nature of the writing. An example being the hunt for experimental pharmaceuticals in a dying Las Vegas as well as the final siege of an isolated mountain community in Colorado called Ouray.

Despite a vast array of characters, Wendig’s narrative skill makes them stand erect in the reader’s mind. There is compassion as well as dark brutality within this complex tale. Some look for redemption, like the preacher who realises that the team he was batting for was on the side of all that is evil. There is love interest, the choices we make and the sacrifices we have to live with, or that we die for. Wendig’s characters examine the [strained] relationships we call family, but most of all we have an examination of the loss of ‘all that we hold dear’ - and how we cope with the emptiness that it brings.  I know this makes Wanderers sound all ‘worthy’, but it is beyond worthy.

At the core of this masterwork, we have to consider why an Artificial Intelligence, one humans [at Benex-Voyager] created, and one that selected a disgraced scientist from the Centers for Disease Control for the investigation into these sleepwalking Wanderers?

When a reader puts such a large time investment into a book of such heft, one becomes fearful if the ‘pay-off’ will merit the time and mental energy spent reading it [never mind, the physical arm-strain just holding this huge book].

Let me tell you I was surprised all the way through, as what Wendig reveals during this epic work is just unbelievably brilliant; but the climax?

In a word the dénouement is ‘AWESOME’ and provocative in leaving the reader astonished at the immensity of Wendig’s imagination and his ability to tell this story with such flourish.  

As a long time reader of Apocalyptic Fiction, I would say Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, sits at the very top table with Stephen King’s The Stand to the left and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song to the right.  

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor