Wayward A novel

Chuck Wendig

Book - 2022

"Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. And they were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them. Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalkers were only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world--*and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them is Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to l...ook after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd--and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again. Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed President Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse. Against these threats, Benji, Shana, Marcy, and the rest have only one hope: Each other. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together"--

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Location Call Number   Status
1st Floor SCIENCE FICTION/Wendig Chuck Checked In
Apocalyptic fiction
Science fiction
Dystopian fiction
New York : Del Rey [2022]
Main Author
Chuck Wendig (author)
First edition
Physical Description
x, 803 pages ; 24 cm
  • Prologue
  • Part one: Settlers of a fallen world
  • Interlude: Best friends forever
  • Part two: Heralds and heretics
  • Interlude: Who are the people in your neighborhood?
  • Part three: Strange nativity
  • Interlude: Five years in Atlas Haven
  • Interlude: The first sleepwalker
  • Part four: The sidewalk ends
  • Interlude: Ten vignettes, aka, the shit what Pete Corley has seen
  • Part five: Lambs and wolves
  • Interlude: A long way past the possum
  • Part six: The rites of pilgrimage
  • Interlude: A nascent god ponders it options
  • Part seven: Antivirus
  • Interlude: The good dog
  • Part eight: The failsafe
  • Epilogue: A bird meets the pins-and-needles man.
Review by Booklist Review

The survivors of 2019's Wanderers have settled in Colorado in an attempt to rebuild after an AI unleashed a deadly fungus upon the world. They're (mostly) good people in a good town, but the world still contains bad towns. Like America City, where Trumpist demagogues plan plots beneath portraits of white-supremacist president Andrew Johnson. The Black Swan AI is also still around and becoming increasingly more unhinged, taking a special interest in protagonist Shana's new baby, who has started to exhibit some startling characteristics. As sometimes happens with sequels, parts of this feel more languid than the original, and some readers might have trouble staying with the story for its 800-plus-page amble. The narration itself may also prove divisive: readers might think Wendig would ditch his breezy style for a postapocalyptic novel, but, well, he doesn't. Genre fans who appreciate good world building should like the book, though, as well as readers with an appreciation for playful, quirky prose.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Wendig's sequel to 2019's Wanderers disappoints, with the sprawling postapocalyptic epic hobbled by heavy-handed political satire­--at one point, U.S. President Ed Creel, a cartoonish Trump stand-in, fights with a man calling himself White Jesus--that overwhelms the more thoughtful elements of the plot. In an alternate present, a Hillary Clinton--like figure, President Nora Hunt, was assassinated during the 2020 White Mask pandemic, which killed millions. Creel then assumed power, but in the wake of the virus, his domain is initially limited to a Kansas bunker. Outside the bunker, those not killed by White Mask struggle to survive, among them former CDC epidemiologist Benji Ray, who is stunned to discover the disease's true origins. Other of the myriad plotlines feature Shana Stewart, whose pregnancy may give some sense of what future humanity can expect; violent political intrigue surrounding Creel; and Matthew Bird, a pastor trying to reconcile his faith with what he's learned about an über-powerful AI called Black Swan. There's not much that feels fresh; both the plot twists and the characters' inner journeys are predictable and familiar. This is best suited only for diehard fans of the previous volume. (Nov.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Five years after the events in Wanderers, readers return to Ouray, CO, where they left shepherds Benji, Marcy, and Shana, as they helped the sleepwalkers cross the country. During those years, "white mask" ravaged humanity and killed most of the world's population, but the AI known as Black Swan kept those in Ouray safe. With the sleepwalkers awake and the fungus threat dissipated, the story shifts to how people are living in this new reality. With multiple points of view that keep the pacing up and enhance the character development, a clear political stance, well-placed action, and interesting sequences, most of the terror here comes from the humans, both well-meaning and evil. Readers will experience a rollercoaster of emotions while ensconced in Wendig's meticulously built world and find peace as the story reaches a heartbreakingly beautiful conclusion. VERDICT This high demand sequel to one of the best and most terrifying books of 2019 will delight fans. Suggest both books to fans of epic, post-apocalyptic, socially conscious horror such as Joe Hill's The Fireman, Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro's "The Strain Trilogy," and Justin Cronin's "The Passage Trilogy."

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The world as we know it ended in Wanderers, Wendig's 2019 bestseller. Now what? A sequel to a pandemic novel written during an actual pandemic sounds pretty intense, and this one doesn't disappoint, heightened by its author's deft narrative skills, killer cliffhangers, and a not inconsiderable amount of bloodletting. To recap: A plague called White Mask decimated humanity, with a relative handful saved by a powerful AI called Black Swan that herded this hypnotized flock to Ouray, Colorado. Among the survivors are Benji Ray, a scientist formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Shana Stewart, who is pregnant and the reluctant custodian of the evolving AI (via nanobots, natch); Sheriff Marcy Reyes; and pastor Matthew Bird. In Middle America, President Ed Creel, a murdering, bigoted, bullying Trump clone, raises his own army of scumbags to fight what remains of the culture wars. When Black Swan kidnaps Shana's child, she and Benji set off on another cross-country quest to find a way to save him. On their way to CDC headquarters, they pick up hilariously foulmouthed rock god Pete Corley, back from delivering Willie Nelson's guitar to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This novel is an overflowing font of treasures peppered with more than a few pointed barbs for any Christofacists or Nazis who might have wandered in by accident. Where Wanderers was about flight in the face of menace, this is an old-fashioned quest with a small band of noble heroes trying to save the world while a would-be tyrant gathers his forces. All those big beats, not least a cataclysmic showdown in Atlanta, are tempered by the book's more intimate struggles, from Shana's primal instinct to recover her boy to the grief Pete buries beneath levity to Matthew Bird's near-constant grapple with guilt. It's a lot to take in, but Pete's ribald, bombastic humor as well as funny interstitials and epigraphs temper the horror within. IMAX-scale bleeding-edge techno-horror from a writer with a freshly sharpened scalpel and time on his hands. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

1 Black Swift Civilization falls in one place but rises in another. --Annalee Newitz, Reddit AMA September 1, 2025 Ouray, Colorado I'm not alone out here, Benji thought. It was in the air--a white noise vibration, the faintest disruption of the silence that had seized the world. Over the years here in Ouray, as the Sleepwalkers slept, and eventually as they awakened, he'd seen something up here, west of town. A bird, he'd thought at the time. But it glinted a bit in the sun. And it didn't move like a bird, not at all. One time, a couple years back, he'd seen it again on a foggy day--a shape moving above the trees before dropping straight down. A year later, as evening settled in, he saw it once more, maybe a quarter mile off: a dark little mote, like a crow. It rushed forward, then went fast in the opposite direction before again disappearing. Benji had been chasing it ever since. He came out here a couple times a week--to get in a walk, to help feed the townsfolk by hunting deer in the spring or bighorn in the winter, but also just on the off chance he'd spy it again. He felt like a crazy person. No one else had seen it. But Benji was a man of both science and faith. He had faith he'd see it again. A hypothesis he tested often. This morning, he'd gone off the Oak Creek trail, stalking an old deer path through the spruce, about midway up to the overlook on Hayden Mountain. And he was sure that today was the day. He could feel it in his teeth. He knew he wasn't alone out here: a fact that both thrilled him and troubled him in equal measure. Because being alone out here wasn't good. The world was mostly gone. Civilization with it. So, if it wasn't a person out here--and if it wasn't the little UFO he'd been tracking--then that could mean a black bear. Or worse, a mountain lion. Such predators didn't care much for human prey, especially now that those animals were no longer forced to forage for garbage or human food--but should he come upon one with its family nearby? He'd be torn to red ribbons. His hands tightened around the cold metal of the Winchester lever-action rifle. And then, ahead, he heard something. Not a telltale snap of twig or crunch of leaf. No, this sound was a low, mechanical whine, like a distant drill spinning. Not a bear. Not a cougar. And it was coming closer. He brought the butt of the weapon to his shoulder but kept the barrel low. His heartbeat kicked up like a galloping horse. Vmmmmm. That sound, closing in. Ahead, he saw something shake the leaves of an aspen, and shudder the branches of a blue spruce. There was a beat where he heard nothing, saw nothing-- But then Benji staggered back as a shape broke through the tree line onto the trail just ahead of him. The rifle went up--and down the sights, he saw what had emerged: A drone. No bigger than a dinner plate and matte gray with four propellers--two in the back raised up, and two in the front down low, the way that a crab held its claws. The drone hovered midair and pivoted carefully toward him. Four red lights marked the corners beneath each propeller, and underneath its body, in a wire mesh cage, was what looked like a camera. The drone was filthy and corroded. Bits of twig and vegetation dangled from it. It hovered about thirty feet in front of him. He almost laughed. There it was. He'd found it. He hadn't lost his mind! Vmmmmm. "Who are you?" he asked. It felt foolish to ask it a question: The drone was a device, not a person. But it did have a camera. And someone had to be piloting it, right? Unless it was autonomous. Weren't there stories from years ago about drones flying over the Western states? Google, perhaps? Bureau of Land Management? But could such a drone still be powered up and flying about? The drone continued to hover in place. As if it was regarding him the same way he was regarding it. And then, just like that, it spun the opposite direction and darted away from him. Benji had no time to think, so he let his body react: He levered a round into the chamber, thumbed off the safety, took aim, and-- The gun bucked against his shoulder as he pulled the trigger. His ears lost all sound as he discharged the weapon, and now Benji cursed himself, because he needed his ears out here. He didn't want the sound of a mountain lion creeping up on him to be lost underneath a crush of tinnitus. Damnit. He set his jaw and broke into a run, bolting down the trail. He saw the glint of the drone buzzing through the trees ahead, and he had no confidence in his ability to catch it--it glided through the air effortlessly, without any friction to hinder its escape. Benji, meanwhile, hard-charged forward--though he was older these days, he was stronger, faster, more physically capable than he'd been in the Beforetimes (as Shana and some of the other townsfolk called it). Just the same, the trail was uneven, overgrown, hewn roughly from the landscape as if by a crude, broken-tipped knife. It narrowed ahead, too, and he had to tighten his gait even as the drone zipped forward. I could stop. I could shoot again. One last chance, a last shot, to take the drone down. If only to see what it was, maybe where it came from. So he lifted the rifle again--but somewhere, his body made a grave miscalculation, concentrating for one moment on the gun and the drone ahead but not on the trail beneath his feet. He felt his foot step just off the trail, into a patch of Indian ricegrass deeper than expected--his heel dropped far, too far, and the ankle twisted. With it, a pop. The gun went off, the shot going high, and then he felt his whole body shift hard-- His shoulder hit the ground first. His head smacked down next. The rest of his body slammed into the earth and turned end over end, down the slope he went. Dry grasses and shrub branches whipped past, clawing at his face. The gun was gone now, and his hands scrambled to stop his descent--but they only pinwheeled as he somersaulted down the slope, scree sliding with him. The world spun like he was in a washing machine, and then-- Wham. His shoulder and back--and then the base of his skull--slammed hard into a bone-white birch tree. His ears rang. His vision radiated out, ripples on disturbed water. His tongue felt fat. He tasted blood. *** Truth was, as Benji hunted the drone, something else had been hunting him. And now that he lay slumped against the tree, blood drooling over his lip, looking up at a robin's egg sky, breathing in air that tasted as crisp as paper, the beast had found him, and pinned him to the earth with its claws. That beast? Guilt. This wasn't the first time it had found him. It always found him in quiet moments like this, didn't it? Benji heard no planes, no engines, no distant murmur of voices. He heard the trill of a mountain bluebird. He heard wind whisking through the comb-tines of spruce trees. In the early days of his time in Ouray, after the fall of the world under the onslaught of White Mask, he remembered the first time he noticed the absence of a particular sound: a background hum like the almost-imperceptible white noise of a television turned on a few rooms away. It was the sound of people. And it was gone. Humankind remained in the world, but it was no longer its master. It was terrible. It was wonderful. Hence--the guilt. But it wasn't so clean and easy as survivor's guilt, oh no. This was a more peculiar thing, like one of those complicated emotions only the Germans had a word for. Yes, there was the guilt of having survived--of not deserving survival when so many others, like Sadie, did. But worse and stranger still was that Benji . . . Well, Benji didn't hate this new world. It was peaceful in a way he'd never really experienced before. No machinery. No gunfire. No fireworks, no traffic, no car horns honking, no dirt bikes, no helicopters overhead, no leaf blowers next door, no sirens, no nine to five, no cellphone ringing, no Twitter, no Facebook, no TikTok, no email, no spam calls, no junk mail, no meetings, none of it. There was only stillness. And there was solace in that stillness. Was it better for the world that humankind had been shaken from it like so many fleas? He hated wondering that. His cold clinician's assessment was that the world was healing in a way it couldn't have, had White Mask not ravaged the world. Yes, Benji felt the grief and sorrow of so much pain, so much death, so many lives lost. Lives and minds and hearts. Mothers and fathers, scientists and writers, clergymen and librarians and doctors and astronauts and, and, and . . . ​(And Sadie. Just thinking her name almost knocked him out cold.) All taken by the mind-thieving fungus, either directly or by the chaos that choked civilization and drove it to its knees. The world had gone to a massive graveyard. And yet. And yet. Excerpted from Wayward: A Novel by Chuck Wendig All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.