#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.

Convention update

Unfortunately, due to the Ongoing Medical Disaster, which I’m considering renaming the Ongoing Medical Calamity because “calamity” is a more fun word than “disaster,” I have been forced to cancel my appearance at IndyPopCon the weekend of June 7th. It is not a good time to be leaving town right now, and I don’t see that changing in the next couple of weeks, plus I would have to take the 7th off from work and I can’t afford to take any additional days not related to the OMD.

So that leaves me with no con appearances currently scheduled between now and Kokomo-Con X in October, and two in a row cancelled. I’m considering seeing if InConJunction, which is over my birthday weekend, and Hall of Heroes Con in September still have spots available. Maybe one more summer con if I can find somewhere to go. Anywhere have something they’d like to suggest, ideally this summer and ideally within driving distance of northern Indiana?

In which I might have been wrong once four and a half years ago

You may be aware that four and a half Goddamn years ago I wrote a review of a stupid movie that I did not enjoy. That movie was called Snowpiercer. I’m not linking to the review, at least not in the text of this post; I’m sure it’ll show up at the bottom somewhere. That post has proven since then to be The Post That Will Not Die. There has been one– ONE day in the four and a half years since it was written that no one clicked on it. It is my second highest-traffic post of all time (it will cross 30,000 pageviews sometime this month) and it is the #1 Google result in the world for the phrase “Snowpiercer stupid.”

It’s been spiking again lately, going from 3-5 hits a day to 20-25 for the last couple of weeks, and whenever that happens I wonder why. This was a not-very-high-profile bad movie from six years ago, for Christ’s sake, and I don’t understand why people are still searching out bad reviews of it. Well, it turns out there’s news about a TV series, which … dandy. This is never going away.

And then I found this video in the comments on that post. And I have chosen to embrace its central thesis fully, and I officially take back everything I ever said about Snowpiercer, if and only if it turns out that it is true that it is a direct sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Yeah, that’s what I said.

Watch every second of this, please. Don’t watch Snowpiercer, but watch every second of this video about it:

REPOST: #Review: THE CHAOS FUNCTION, by Jack Skillingstead

41oDYcJqwBL.jpgHey, all– I said I’d repost this when the book came out, and I thought at the time that I’d actually set it to autopost, and it turns out I didn’t, so this is actually a couple of days late.  Sorry, Jack!  I still liked your book.


Several weeks ago I RTed a promotional tweet about this book.  I didn’t really think anything of it; I RT book promos all the time if the author or the cover or really anything about it at all catches my attention, but in this particular case the publisher picked five people who had RTed the tweet and sent them an ARC of the book.  There was no particular expectation attached that I would review the book or really do anything at all with it– I mean, I’m sure they were hoping, but there was no “give us an honest review and we’ll send you a book!”

But!  I read it nonetheless, because reading books is kind of a thing I do, and I’m pleased to report that Jack Skillingstead’s The Chaos Function is a pretty solid read.  I wasn’t familiar with him or his work prior to being sent the book– he is mostly a short story guy, apparently– but he’s definitely on my radar now for future work.

The Chaos Function is a bunch of things: it’s a war novel, it’s a pre-, post- and ongoing apocalypse novel, a dash of alternate history, some conspiracy theorizing and secret society stuff, and a bit of a physics lesson.  The main character is Olivia Nikitas, a journalist specializing in war zones.  The book is set slightly in the future but you won’t be terribly surprised to learn that Skillingstead posits that Syria will continue to be a war-torn nightmare, and Nikitas is covering the war in Syria when some shit goes down and two of her friends are killed.  And then all the sudden … they aren’t anymore.  Not “not dead,” not killed.  As in she remembers them dying and they don’t.  And it turns out that somebody else died in the same event, someone who gave Olivia the ability to alter specific events in the past, but not to control what happens next.

Heard of the butterfly effect, have you?  This book asks you to imagine some really big butterflies, to overextend the metaphor just a wee bit.  And every time Olivia tries to use her new abilities, things change in ways she wasn’t expecting, and most of the time they don’t change in a way she particularly likes.  And this leads to some interesting moral dilemmas wrapped in and around the whole “people chasing me, need to stay alive, oh by the way World War III just started and I’m pretty sure it’s my fault” thing the novel has going for it.

At 304 pages it’s a fast read– Skillingstead has no time to waste on frippery or flowery language, which makes him a writer close to my own heart– and once it gets started he never lets off the gas.  The bad thing?  They got this to me early– way early– and the book doesn’t come out until March 19 of next year.  So I gotta remember to repost this, I guess.  Until then?  I hear Amazon takes pre-orders.

In which I have a word with all my favorite authors

Pictured: my unread shelf. Not pictured: the three more books I just ordered.

Dear authors I like: please stop writing so many books. I do not have time for all of them, and my unread shelf, which is full of riches, is starting to frighten me. There are three different authors I have more than one book from on that shelf. I just ordered another Seanan McGuire book, meaning there are about to be three by her. Kameron Hurley has a book coming out next week. And there is a third book in that order, an order I just placed perhaps an hour ago, and I don’t remember what it was.

(Oh, right! G. Willow Wilson, an author I’ve come to associate mostly with comic books, just released her second novel. That was it.)

I am currently reading The Phoenix Empress, the sequel to The Tiger’s Daughter, a book I read in January and liked a hell of a lot. For some reason it has taken several days to read, which is not a reflection on its quality, just on my lack of time to read in the last couple of days. I am about 180 pages away from the end, and as soon as I finish this post I’m going to pick it up and I’m not putting it down again until I am done with it. Because look at my damn unread shelf. It’s out of control, and more books are coming. I can’t stop buying books, because I have a sickness, and I’m pretty sure I really can’t read any faster, so the only solution is that y’all are going to have to stop writing so many books. I know y’all depend on this for your livelihood, but I’m told that things like eliminating Starbucks can lead to financial success, so maybe that will work for you. Or perhaps find a way for me to not find out about your books– which might be difficult, because I’m following all of you on Twitter.

(The Phoenix Empress is probably not going to get a full review. I am enjoying it but it’s not quite as amazing as The Tiger’s Daughter was. That said, a large part of my love for Tiger’s Daughter is related to how amazingly well it stuck the ending, so we’ll see how the last couple hundred pages go tonight.)

And then I will pick one of those books from the pile before I go to bed, and I will hope to be halfway done with it before I sleep. Because, my God, I have to winnow that mess down somehow. Tell me what I’m reading next in comments. I want to read them all next, which I’m pretty sure isn’t possible.