I found Chuck Wendig because I read his non-fiction book: The Kick-Ass Writer. His writing advice wasn't innovative, but I'm always on the lookout for a new take on the truisms of writing, because it's often the thinking around 'the rules' that reaches me more than the rules themselves. Chuck's book on writing has some hilarious vulgarity in it. The man has a talent for perverse imagery. So I wanted to see how that would manifest in his fiction.
When I got to the acknowledgements for The Wanderers, he commented on how an 800-page book gets a lot of help. I didn't realize just how long the book was as I read because I was on a Kindle, but it explained a lot. The book is, to my taste, bloated. For a successful author with a lot of experience pumping out traditionally published books, I didn't understand how he could let this book go out at its final size.
This enormous novel sits at the intersection of AI Apocalypse and Medical Horror. He develops a few interesting characters. There's Marcy, the Amazonian ex-cop with a mysterious connection to the wanderers. Then there's his take on Satan in human form, Ozark Stover, a white supremacist, homosexual rapist. Properly evil characters always entertain. Then there is the enigmatic Black Swan AI who he doesn't allow to talk until the end of the book (seriously, he hobbled perhaps the most interesting character). The rest of the characters were, to me, boring as hell. Worse, they tended to be the POV characters.
The heart of the plot is the mysterious flock of walkers, ostensibly the wanderers of the title. They are zombies by another name, except they're benign. They don't go hunting for grey matter. They just walk and walk and walk.
For me, that's one of the biggest problems with the narrative. It focuses on a group of uncommunicative, boring walkers. They're in Indianna. Oh, now there in Idaho. For some reason they're now in California, but they're going to head back to Colorado. I didn't care.
Worse is that our POV characters are a CDC doctor named Benjamin Ray, and a farmer's daughter named Shana Stewart. If ever there were two people who had just about the least interesting points of view to put on a page, it's these two. How many pages of 'gotta protect my sister, Nessie' can you stomach? I have a high tolerance, but it goes on forever. Likewise, Dr. Ray has a boring incident in the past where he lied about some disease and ruined his career. How many times can I read about that milquetoast character's regrets over Longacre? Whatever it is, I met my limit.
The third major POV character is Mathew Bird, a pastor in dipshit Farmville who exquisitely defines boring to me. He's got this small world with small thoughts and the most parochial concerns I've ever read about.
I'm not saying these aren't valid or occasionally useful characters. I am saying that they are boring as hell and should only be taken in small doses. As the venue for laying out this story, they did not particularly entertain.
That's the theme of my complaints, focus and length. Among these 800 pages there is a gripping story. Unfortunately, that gripping story is told via the most boring 'through line' of the 'story space' that one might conceive, at a crawl.
Sci-fi fans look elsewhere. Although there is a good dollup of next-level AI going on here, Chuck has chosen to focus on the humanity of the story at the expense of whiz-bang tech intrigue. And, to beat that expired equine, he does so via the most boring humans to live on paper, slowly.
I think those flaccid, boring 800 pages could be cut down to about 250 pages of fairly snappy reading. With some rewriting to focus on the more interesting characters, it could really sing. But as published, it just bored the snot out of me. By the last third of the book, I was skimming extensively. Because even when events were building to a climax, he was slow-rolling the crap out of the plot.
There's no aguing taste, right? If you're the kind of reader that enjoys being immersed deeply in the minutiae, this book may appeal to you. Did you enjoy the long, slow slog of Frodo and Sam through Mordor? Then maybe this book is for you.
Chuck is still in there. I saw a flash of him when Marcy told off Ozark Stover. It was the most enjoyable part of the book to me. The man can write some trash talk.
So, with apologies to Mr. Wendig, whom I like, I have to say I can't recommend this book.