I really wanted to like The Wanderers by Meg Howrey, especially with how it was initially sold to me via the blurb: “Howery’s exquisite novel demonstrates that the final frontier may not be space after all.”(J. Ryan Stradal). At the end of the day I could only really give it two stars and wondered why I had witnessed all of this.
There’s plenty of existential navel-gazing and despite Howrey’s beautiful prose that frames these scenes, she gets trapped in narrative loops and I’m not sure I’ve taken anything more away than how space exploration, even done virtually, will change you.
We follow three astronauts and a few of their family members as they experience the first ever virtual test training of going to mars. Helen, Sergei and Yoshi are all hand picked for this mission and are put under various strain for 17 months of vigorous mental, emotional, and physical tests. This is all done by a pseudo-SpaceX company who is funding the international effort.
I kept holding my breath for a twist, because that’s what I’ve been trained to do, thanks to pop culture. I also wanted a greater conflict than what our three astronauts were feeling. Instead, the reader is left with humans struggling with their human experience in a semi-exotic setting that keeps things mildly interesting. By the end, I wasn’t sure I had truly *gone* anywhere and like the astronauts in their sims, maybe that was the point.
I do think her prose is beautiful, but that isn’t enough substance for me to keep the story moving forward. Fans of more literary novels will appreciate this, if they can let go of the science mumbo-jumbo parts. Those fans of character studies would also appreciate this, since this is really a deep dive into what makes characters tick.