I became introduced to Meg Howrey’s writing a few years ago through her sophomore novel, a New York City ballet drama called The Cranes Dance. Her third novel intrigued me because of its radically different subject matter: in The Wanderers, three seasoned astronauts prepare for the first human mission to Mars.
A multinational crew — Helen Kane from the United States, Sergei Kuznetsov from Russia, and Yoshihiro Tanaka from Japan — is chosen by a private space exploration company to spend 17 months together in an intense training simulation. During this period, they’ll live together as if they were really on a journey to Mars. They’ll train inside a high-tech 24/7 simulation of their upcoming mission that comes complete with equipment failures and other possible emergencies they might encounter. Each has their own visions of making history, but they also harbor emotional baggage. Regardless, they are determined not to crack under pressure.
Meanwhile, their families must come to terms with their loved one’s absence for the next few years — first for the simulation, then for the actual mission to Mars. Helen’s adult daughter, Mireille, has always lived with her mother’s NASA fame; now that Mireille is an actress, Helen’s fame is harder to swallow. She’s grown up without her mother around, knowing full well that space is her mother’s true love. Meanwhile, Sergei’s sons are coming of age without their father. And finally, Makoda, Yoshihiro’s wife, gives readers a closer look at their marriage.
In theory, this book sounded awesome. In practice, NOTHING HAPPENS. Like…nothing. At all. The characters mostly wallow in their narcissistic thoughts. And that’s fine; I don’t mind snail-paced non-plots and unlikeable characters. But these characters were too self-contained to make it work. There’s no real tension simmering beneath the surface; everyone exists in their own little world. For 17 months.
I listened to this nothingness on audiobook — complete with the narrator pronouncing Sergei as “Sir GAY” — for 10.5 hours. I can’t even.
I am also willing to suspend belief in favor of fiction, but in my eventual annoyance with the non-plot, I ultimately couldn’t get over the idea of how much the simulation the astronauts were in would cost. I kept envisioning something like a super-sized, beefed-up Star Trek holodeck, and I just don’t see how a company would — or could — drop the cash (and the tech support) for something like that when they should be spending the financial and intellectual capital on the actual trip to Mars. Just saying.
I’ve seen some compare this to Andy Weir’s The Martian, but no. It is nothing like The Martian. Stuff actually happens in The Martian. The Wanderers has an interesting premise, but the execution leaves much to be desired.
The Wanderers was released on March 14, 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons. I listened to the audiobook version produced by Penguin Audio.