Wanderers

This book will be released July 2, 2019.

For no apparent reason, people develop a dead stare and start walking. They respond to nothing; their thick skin can’t be penetrated. If something gets in their way, they climb over it effortlessly. If someone tries to restrain them, they shudder and their body temperature rises until they burst in a spray of blood and bone, killing not only themselves, but those around them.

All this brings forth the good and bad of American society: the good shepherds, family members who plod alongside their loved ones; and the bad: religious fanatics, right-wing politicians, and rabid white supremacists with armaments that rival those of the United States military.

It’s an election year, with the Hillary Clinton-like incumbent Nora Hunt referenced in vulgar terms by those who despise her, and a reckless far-right opponent named Ed Creel, who curses at reporters and spews lies, conspiracies, and calls to violence against the walkers, shepherds, and anyone who opposes him.

The CDC, under the guidance of Dr. Benji Ray, is assigned to track the walkers and fights off the violent intrusion of Homeland Security, but finds its charges and themselves repeatedly under attack: on the ground by armed militias ready to snatch their country away from a president and society they detest; over the airwaves by a preacher suddenly famous for his increasingly savage scriptural interpretations of sinners in the hands of an angry God; and through the Internet by countless commenters around the world advocating a variety of strategies. Their only protection is an artificial intelligence program named Black Swan, which seemingly holds the key to solving this hysteria if it’s asked the right questions.

Until a fungal disease nicknamed White Mask begins to spread around the world, with a one hundred percent death rate, and the only people not affected are the walkers, which enrages their paranoid adversaries even further.

Chuck Wendig made sure to cover every conceivable base in this book, but clocking in at 800 pages in hardcover, he’s sorely in need of a good editor to murder his darlings. Entire storylines could easily fall or shorten under an expert red pen — Pastor Matthew Bird and his intact but estranged family are unnecessary baggage, and militia leader Ozark Stover’s sadism veers way too far into Deliverance territory. Even vital characters like Shana, Marcy, and Dr. Ray are burdened with too much backstory, and aging punk rocker/rebellion leader Pete Corley receives far too much of the attention he craves. An entire simulation, much like a video game, featuring the walkers makes no sense and merely pads out the story, as if Wendig had a word or page count to meet. There aren’t many characters who feels unfinished or mysterious, which isn’t a compliment.

If Wendig isn’t actively emulating Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece The Stand, he at least lays this manuscript at its altar. And while the two books have a lot in common, Wendig simply lacks the chops to pull off such a complex tale, a feat King has achieved repeatedly throughout his long and storied career. In Wendig’s defense, not many writers have been able to match the mastery of King’s most popular book, but he and Random House provoked a deliberate comparison by issuing such a similar novel nearly 41 years after The Stand’s first publication.

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