#Review: WANDERERS, by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers is one of those books that could have been very disappointing. To start, I have been waiting for this book for what seems like a very long time. I actually pre-ordered it, which I don’t do with books all that often– I am generally backlogged enough in my reading that even books that I’ve been looking forward to and whose authors I’m big fans of have to wait for a while for me to get to them. Not this one. I not only preordered it, I specifically timed the books I was reading before it so that I would be free and clear and able to start something new immediately when it showed up in my mailbox. So if it had been bad, there is a strong possibility that I might have cried. Actual book-nerd tears. It woulda been a problem.

Let’s not bury the lede any further: Wanderers is Wendig’s best book, and by a pretty large margin– and, again, remember that this is a guy who I am fond of and whose work has shown up in my end-of-year top 10 before. So this is way better than a bunch of books that I really liked. What’s fascinating about it is how different it is from all of Wendig’s other work. His previous work– which includes multiple Star Wars novels, books that have always sort of had a house style– has always been instantly recognizable: short sentences, present tense, visceral detail, and a certain disregard for strict grammar conventions in favor of impactful language. You can show me a single paragraph from any of Wendig’s previous books and I’d be able to tell you it was his. That recognizable.

Wanderers throws all that out the window. This book must have been a beast to write– not only is it markedly longer than any of his previous books (it’s probably close to twice as long as its closest competitor) but the style of the writing is completely different. I would never have guessed Wendig wrote this from a paragraph or even a chapter, although you certainly see his humor and his themes come through– it is, if this makes any sense, a Wendig book made up of nearly 800 not-very-Wendig pages.

That probably doesn’t make any sense.

So, the plot, and this will be spoiler-free, for the most part: the elevator pitch for this book is “What if Chuck Wendig wrote The Stand,” and those seven words were more than enough to earn my money. To be clear, The Stand is one of Stephen King’s two or three best books, and while I’ll need to read Wanderers a couple more times over the next decade or so to see if it lives up to that book’s very high standard, the comparison is not remotely unfair to either book. This book is about a plague, and the end of the world, and a presidential election, and white supremacists, and it’s about all of those things before we mention the titular Wanderers, people who are locked into their own bodies and sleepwalking … somewhere. The world doesn’t even start ending until like halfway through the book, and the omnipresent sense of dread and horror is thick enough to drag your fingers through, even before the book gets around to one of the scarier human villains I’ve read recently. The book is not stingy with its mysteries, and the way they unfold over the course of its somehow-still-fast-paced 780 pages is immensely satisfying.

I have read 74 books so far this year, and of those 74, 17 are on my shortlist for the end of the year. It’s been a good year for reading! But this is the first book that I’ve read and known beyond a shadow of a doubt that yeah, this one’s gonna be top three. You should read Wanderers, and you should start now.

#REVIEW: THE HUNGER, by Alma Katsu

For whatever reason, I’m reading a lot more this year than I did last year. I set last year’s goal at 100 books and only barely got past that at 106; I decided to dial it back a little bit this year and set my goal to 75, and I just finished the 70th book of the year last night, so I’ll finish my yearly reading goal before the year is halfway done.

Given that I’ve been on a book-every-day-or-two pace for most of June, the fact that it’s still notable how fast I devoured — pun intended — Alma Katsu’s The Hunger is pretty impressive. I couldn’t put this book down; it’s nearly 400 pages long and I finished it in less than a day. Even more impressively, The Hunger is a horror novel, and I tend to be kinda rough on horror novels. The scariest book I ever read was a nonfiction book about the Dust Bowl (I am not remotely kidding) and on the rare occasions that I find a horror novel that actually scares me I tend to promote them heavily.

You might imagine, given all of that, that a historical fiction about the Donner Party that tosses some supernatural complications into the story might be right up my alley, and man, you’d be all sorts of right. Don’t get me wrong; I think Katsu probably could have played this book perfectly straight and still written a hell of a novel if she’d wanted to, but taking what was already a nightmare hellscape of a setting and tossing in what isn’t quite a zombie story but is still certainly in the neighborhood ended up creating one hell of an engrossing story. Katsu bounces back and forth between half-a-dozen or so narrators from the caravan (which was, at the beginning, nearly 100 people strong) and from my brief research into the actual events of the time, does a decent job of keeping at least the important parts of her narrative close to what actually happened.

(I mean, monsters. She adds monsters. I’m pretty sure the monsters weren’t there originally. But it’s still decent historical fiction nonetheless, I think.)

So, yeah: this book is about terrible things happening to regular people, and some of the terrible things are kind of their own damn fault but most of them are because frontier-era America was legitimately dangerous as hell, and Katsu keeps the tension so thick for most of the book that you want to wipe it off your fingers when you’re done reading. She’s got a genuine gift for setting a scene and a hell of a talent for just keeping everything creepy; this book isn’t a jump-scare sort of thing, but the type of book that’s gonna worm its way into your head while you’re reading and stay there a while. There’s a good chance of seeing this one on my Best of 2019 list at the end of the year. Check it out.

#REVIEW: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment, by Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann’s The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is the second of two books that I was sort of randomly offered ARCs of in the last couple of months. They asked me to have it read and the review ready today, and I’m happy to announce that unlike the last time I’m actually managing to successfully fulfill that request.

To put it mildly, the gun issue is one place where I am pretty consistently far to the left of anyone I ever talk to about it. I want guns banned, period. I want the Second Amendment repealed. When you hear “moderate, reasonable” gun control advocates say things like no one is coming for your guns to the gun nuts? That’s not true, because I’m totally coming for your guns. I’m sick to death of people thinking the Constitution enshrines a right to murder other people, guns don’t ever make anyone or anything safer, and there is no such thing as a “good guy with a gun.” There is only a dangerous idiot who hasn’t killed anyone or shot his own dick off yet.

So now that I’ve pissed everyone off, this is actually a pretty interesting little book. I used to listen to Hartmann’s radio show back when I was commuting to the South Side and back every day in Chicago, so I’m familiar with how he works– and the fact that he kept me listening to a liberal talk show when I have learned over the years that listening to talk radio from people who mostly agree with me is actually not something that will keep me awake during a drive is a good sign for him. Despite the pull quote on the cover, this is actually a history book and not a polemic about gun control, although it does have a few chapters at the end about what people call “sensible” gun control measures, like registering them similarly to the way we register cars, insisting that gun owners carry insurance, and regulating semiautomatic weapons the same way we regulate automatic weapons.

(Wanna fight about technicalities over what a “semiautomatic weapon” is? No problem; I’ll start pushing to ban anything that uses a controlled explosion to fire a projectile faster than a human being can throw it.)

At any rate, Hartmann traces America’s gun culture back to– surprise!– slavery and Native American displacement and genocide, and discusses the history of (and some interesting looks at early drafts of) the Second Amendment in particular, and probably spends 80% of the book’s text discussing why America is different about guns than damn near the entire rest of the world and how our history affects the gun fetishism that infects our culture today.

(Deletes a rant)

This is at all times a clear and readable book; if anything, my sole major criticism of it is that it could be a bit more in-depth. The book itself is less than 200 pages long and most of the chapters are less than five pages, and while there are several pages of endnotes at the end most of them are to websites, meaning that the index and the sources are mostly going to be useless a few years down the road. I went back and forth on whether this was a fair criticism; after all, it’s not like Hartmann wrote a short book accidentally, and the fact that there’s a companion volume of similar length coming in October called The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America indicates that he’s thinking of this as a series and not a one-off. There is certainly a place for cursory looks at American history, but given how … well, revisionist is the wrong word, but certainly nontraditional this look at history is, I wanted a bit more meat on the book’s bones than I got. For example, he devotes a single intriguing sentence to saying that Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico was over Mexico outlawing slavery. That’s interesting! I want to know more about it, and I hadn’t heard that before! But it’s literally a single throwaway sentence.

(Note that I am far from an expert on Texan history.)

At any rate: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is available now at all the places you might buy books. Those of you with an interest in modern politics and American history should check it out; anytime my only criticism of a book is I want more, that’s probably a sign of something that I can honestly recommend. Check it out.

A couple of reviewlets

I took a shower after getting up this morning, as I do every day before work, and I had a coughing fit after my shower, as also happens damn near every day. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s been a feature of my life since college: finish shower, coughing fit.

The coughing fit going on for so long that I puke was new, though. As I have A Rule about these things, I quickly amended my half day off because of Ongoing Medical Disaster to a full day, took the boy to school, hoping that no further esophageal eruptions would occur, and took a nap. Then I got back up, finished reading a book, and beat a video game. Then I puked again, right after beating the video game.

It was some kind of day, I’ll tell you what.

I have read one Sam Sykes book in the past. Well, started. His The City Stained Red bounced off of me hard, in the sort of way that leaves you suspecting you’re being unfair to the book somehow, but I like him enough on Twitter to be willing to give him a second chance, and man, am I glad I did, because Seven Blades in Black is a monstrously good book despite the terrible, Monty-Python-esque cover. It’s nearly 700 pages long and I blew through it in about three days because I didn’t want to put it down– and right up to the last 100 pages I was pretty convinced I was reading what would eventually become my favorite book of the year.

Unfortunately, the book could probably stand to be about a hundred pages shorter, and this may be a consequence of having read it so fast, but a number of its tropes started feeling really damn repetitive toward the end and it started to wear on me a tiny bit. This still leaves it good enough that it’s a solid candidate for the end-of-year list, but I liked the first 5/6 more than I did the end. This is gritty, violent, profane fantasy literature that somehow manages to be high-magic and low fantasy at the same time, not a combination that I see all that often (or would have thought possible before reading this) and the most amazing thing about it is that Sykes makes it feel so easy. I don’t know his process at all, but this feels like it was written in seven or eight ten-hour bursts over the course of seven or eight days, and in case it’s not clear I mean that as a compliment. For all I know, he agonized over it for a really long time, but on the page it just feels … I dunno, I don’t want to repeat “easy” again but the whole thing just comes off as really organic somehow, like it wrote itself.

And I love Sal the Cacophony, even if she looks ridiculous on the cover. Check the book out.


I finally finally finally finally finally finally finally fucking beat Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice today, a game I started playing approximately six years ago, and no shadows die at any point in the game and in fact the word “shadow” is never uttered once anywhere by anyone and it’s the worst subtitle in the history of video games but that’s okay because Sekiro might be my favorite game ever right now. That said there are four endings and I just got one of them, and the one I got involved beating a different final boss than the other three do, so … I’ve got some more fucking work to do, because I’m getting every damn trophy this game has to offer and no one and nothing is going to stop me.

You should buy this game and you should dedicate your life to getting good at it because it is insanely Goddamned difficult and it will break you down and make you cry and force you to play on its terms no matter what you want to do. And you will do it anyway because the game is just that fuckin’ good. 15/10 would cry again. Probably will tonight, as a matter of fact, because I have two active save files on two different last bosses and I only beat one of them today. Time to go back to the other one.

I figure it’ll take another week, minimum.

#REVIEW: 5 Critical Things for Successful Book Signings, by Adam Dreece

Calling this a “review” might be overstating the case a little bit, I dunno. Think of it more as a public service announcement for those of you who are authors who do book signings:

Pick this book up, and read it, (it’s only about 130 pages, so it won’t take terribly long) and internalize its teachings. The meat of the book is right there in the title, so there’s not a whole lot of need to go into details about what the book covers; just be aware that Adam is really good at this sort of thing and the advice in the book is spot-on.

Necessary disclosures: I got to see an early ARC and provided a blurb for the back cover and the Amazon description, and even before then I’d been stealing ideas from Adam since my first show at InConJunction several years ago. That said, he rejected my first blurb– which is fine, as I suspected he was going to, and provided him with the one he actually used a few minutes later. That said, since this is my blog, and not his book, here’s the first blurb I tried to get him to use:

“This book gives you all the advantages of Adam Dreece’s knowledge and experience without the mess and effort of hunting him down and consuming his brain and living soul. Highly recommended.”
—Luther M. Siler, author of THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES

Can’t imagine why he didn’t use it.

Anyway, if you’re an author, this will be money well spent. And you can even write it off on your taxes! So everybody wins.