Post-apocalyptic fiction is a robust and frequently magnificent genre. Rather less developed is the genre of pre-apocalyptic fiction: stories set in the period immediately before civilization breaks down and most of humanity is snuffed out.
Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers is a brilliantly conceived novel that takes places over the course of several months and ends with the world on the brink of collapse. Exactly how the world gets to this point I’m not going to tell you. I’m not even going to hint at it, because Wendig’s intricately plotted story deserves to unfold at its own pace, with its many surprises intact.
I will tell you this: as much as we knew Wendig was a good writer (see, for example, his Miriam Black novels, his Star Wars stories, and the delightfully creepy Invasive), in Wanderers he reaches a new literary level. This is a beautiful novel, with flawed heroes and multifaceted villains, with gorgeous prose and a story that somehow manages to be bleak and exhilarating at the same time.
I will also tell you this: Wendig takes a lot of risks here. There are a couple of places where the story could have fallen apart – and in the hands of a lesser writer, it might easily have done just that. There are plot twists that, let’s be honest, shouldn’t work. But they do work – spectacularly. And, in the book’s major antagonist, Wendig has created a character who could easily have crossed the line into cartoonish villainy, if the author hadn’t kept such a close eye on him.
Wanderers is a major literary achievement. It’s Chuck Wendig’s best novel (so far, anyway), and I suspect it will be the standard against which other works of pre-apocalyptic fiction will be judged for a good long time.
Copyright 2019 David Pitt