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The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

BOTTOM LINE: Not what I expected and I am okay with that.

Genre: Literary Fiction; Science Fiction
Publication Date: 14 March 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

In an age of space exploration, we search to find ourselves.

In four years, aerospace giant Prime Space will put the first humans on Mars. Helen Kane, Yoshihiro Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov must prove they’re the crew for the historic voyage by spending seventeen months in the most realistic simulation ever created. Constantly observed by Prime Space’s team of ‘Obbers,’ Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei must appear ever in control. But as their surreal pantomime progresses, each soon realizes that the complications of inner space are no less fraught than those of outer space. The borders between what is real and unreal begin to blur, and each astronaut is forced to confront demons past and present, even as they struggle to navigate their increasingly claustrophobic quarters—and each other.

Astonishingly imaginative, tenderly comedic, and unerringly wise, The Wanderers explores the differences between those who go and those who stay, telling a story about the desire behind all exploration: the longing for discovery and the great search to understand the human heart.”

My Thoughts: The Wanderers was pitched to me for fans of The Martian and Station Eleven. The former is one of my all-time favorite books. Even though I was in the minority about my disregard for the latter novel, my love for Andy Weir‘s novel was more than enough to want me to read Meg Howrey‘s novel. I put this out there as a warning. This is not The Martian. It is more like Emily St. John Mandel‘s novel than anything close to Weir’s. Yet, I enjoyed it much more than I did Station Eleven.

There is a danger when comparing a new novel to one that was such a runaway success and one that was a critical darling, but The Wanderers manages to sidestep that danger by throwing in a few unanswered questions that shakes up the entire experiment. In fact, some readers will be downright angry that these questions remain unanswered. That Ms. Howrey chooses not to provide answers is telling and forces readers to change their approach to the novel. It is a brave statement for a storyteller, especially when your novel is being compared to one that is anything but nuanced or introspective. However, it works well within the pages of The Wanderers as it forces you to focus on the esoteric rather than on the adventure itself.

Mars will always appeal as the next great frontier for exploration, and even a fake mission to Mars is fascinating. There is plenty of science to legitimize the experiment. I have no idea whether the science holds up to scrutiny, but within the novel, everything seems acceptable. The experiment is so successful at times that it even blurs the lines of reality and fiction for readers. The astronauts feel real sensations – the tug of gravity and its release upon leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the frigid temperatures on Mars, the fear of watching the radiation recorders creep into danger levels – and so do the readers. It is an extraordinary thing, especially since it is all fake.

I wanted an action-adventure, and I got literary fiction. I wanted excitement, and I got philosophy. Strangely, I am okay with that. I am not the type of reader who will underline profound passages or even take notes. I read to escape, and there was just enough action to make me okay with the copious amounts of introspection within The Wanderers. I can appreciate the development and growth each of the astronauts achieve on their “journey” and will take away some ideas upon which I need to reflect. I finish the novel satisfied with the story, with my response, and with its lasting impact.

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