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The Wanderers

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In four years Prime Space will put the first humans on Mars. Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov must prove they’re the crew for the job by spending seventeen months in the most realistic simulation ever created.

Retired from NASA, Helen had not trained for irrelevance. It is nobody’s fault that the best of her exists in space, but her daughter can’t help placing blame. The MarsNOW mission is Helen’s last chance to return to the only place she’s ever truly felt at home. For Yoshi, it’s an opportunity to prove himself worthy of the wife he has loved absolutely, if not quite rightly. Sergei is willing to spend seventeen months in a tin can if it means travelling to Mars. He will at least be tested past the point of exhaustion, and this is the example he will set for his sons.

As the days turn into months the line between what is real and unreal becomes blurred, and the astronauts learn that the complications of inner space are no less fraught than those of outer space. The Wanderers gets at the desire behind all exploration: the longing for discovery and the great search to understand the human heart.

370 pages, Hardcover

First published March 14, 2017

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About the author

Meg Howrey

4 books291 followers
Meg Howrey is the author of the forthcoming novel They're Going to Love You, and the novels The Wanderers, The Cranes Dance, and Blind Sight. She is also the coauthor, writing under the pen-name Magnus Flyte, of the New York Times Bestseller City of Dark Magic and City of Lost Dreams. Her non-fiction has appeared in Vogue and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Meg was a professional dancer who performed with the Joffrey Ballet and City Ballet of Los Angeles, among others. She made her theatrical debut in James Lapine's Twelve Dreams at Lincoln Center, and received the 2001 Ovation Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role in the Broadway National Tour of Contact.

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Profile Image for Larry H.
2,513 reviews29.4k followers
February 22, 2017
I'm about 3.5 stars here.

Aerospace behemoth Prime Space, which has made its presence known in NASA's waning years, has a plan to put the first humans on Mars in four years. The company has selected the perfect crew for this mission—Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Yoshihiro Tanaka—each of them leaders in their own country's space program who have participated on the International Space Station. The three are chosen for their complementary skills, personalities, and backgrounds, which should mesh perfectly during their mission.

Given the risky nature of their mission, the three will spend 17 months in the Utah wilderness in an amazingly realistic simulation of every aspect of the mission, from launch to the return home. Prime Space's Mission Control will throw everything they can at the crew, from equipment malfunctions, atmospheric anomalies, personal crises, even imminent failure, to observe their actions and reactions in order to determine what things will need to be tweaked when the actual mission rolls around.

Beyond the mechanics of their journey into space, Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi are observed by Prime Space's team of "obbers" around the clock, who monitor not only their physical reactions to situations they are thrown into, but their psychological, emotional, and interpersonal relationships and interactions as well, even how they react to the messages they receive from their own family and friends. And the "obbers" aren't just watching them, they're also watching those closest to them—Helen's daughter, Sergei's sons, and Yoshi's wife—each of whom has their own challenges, both related and unrelated to their family members' imminent journey to Mars.

To spend this much time in close proximity with each other and know that you are being watched around the clock is challenging, yet the three are determined to present the most stable personas to those watching, those who could make the decision to bounce them from the real mission. Yet as the simulated mission proceeds, each faces their own doubts, fears, and regrets, and even struggle with the concept of what is truly real and what is being simulated to test them. Meanwhile, their family members are dealing with their own epiphanies, and how they feel about the absence of their loved ones.

For a book under 400 pages, at times The Wanderers has an almost sweeping, epic feel, as it covers weighty topics such as travel to other planets, the issue of personal legacy, and how astronauts are forced to cope with the double-edged sword of wanting to be there for their families yet constantly wanting to push the boundaries of exploration. But at other times it feels very intimate, as the astronauts deal with their personal feelings of fear, paranoia, regret, loss, and confusion.

There's a lot going on in this book—sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. The book shifts perspective among the crew members, as well as Helen's daughter, Yoshi's wife, and one of Sergei's sons, and a member of the "obbers." I honestly think the book could have been equally as powerful without the family members' perspectives, because apart from one instance, the stories never really got closure. At times the book gets weighted down with technical speak, but luckily that doesn't last long, because the power of this novel truly comes from each of the astronauts, their self-discovery, and their interactions with one another.

I've been a fan of Meg Howrey since her very first novel, Blind Sight (see my review), and you can tell she did a tremendous amount of research to make this book feel authentic. But what I loved most were her storytelling, the complexity of her characters, and the imagery she uses. I thought the pacing of the book was a bit slow, but at its heart the story was very compelling. (By the way, this book is being marketed as Station Eleven meets The Martian , to which I'll reply, nope.)

NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
325 reviews302 followers
August 17, 2017
3.5 Stars. Three astronauts embark on a seventeen-month training simulation in preparation for a real trip to Mars. During the hyper-realistic simulation, Prime Space will be studying the astronauts' behavior and monitoring their communications with their families to see how they hold up on such a long mission. The goal is "not asking them to deal with the environment [Prime Space has] created for them, but creating the right environment for them to deal with whatever they encounter." The most unexamined territory is not within the simulation but within themselves. The Wanderers is a character-driven novel that explores the nature of humanity and our relationships with each other.

You don’t stop being a real person just because you aren’t in a real place.

I was eager to read this book because it was described as "The Martian meets Station Eleven." That's not really what it is (and I don't think they're making that comparison anymore), but I was lucky that it ended up being another type of book that I like: introspection in space (in a way)! Like much literary fiction set in space, most of the book actually takes place in the characters' heads. It's more like Good Morning, Midnight or Spaceman of Bohemia, because it's a journey of self-discovery rather than a grand space adventure. It might be telling that it sometimes reminded me more of my nonfiction reading: Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe* and The Traveler's Guide to Space: For One-Way Settlers and Round-Trip Tourists. Another reason I was interested in this book was because I'm always fascinated by the experiences of participants in real-life Mars simulations. It definitely satisfied me on that account! The author was inspired by the Mars 500 mission in Moscow. There's also the HI-SEAS project in Hawaii; the fourth crew disembarked in August 2016 and the fifth crew's mission should be ending soon.

"Who are these people that can withstand such a trip, the danger, the risk, the isolation, the pressure? What can these people teach us? Because if we— the species—might eventually do something like move to another planet, it would be better if we made a few improvements on ourselves first, if possible."

The chapters alternate between seven characters. The three astronauts chosen for the mission were selected to perfectly complement each other, "a kind of dream team, a trio whose individual temperaments, skills, and experience would combine in such a way as to be able to withstand the most challenging and dangerous expedition in the history of humankind." The astronauts are never content to stand still and are always wanting to push the limits of exploration. They love their families, but they can't resist the call to the unknown.

The Astronauts
Helen (53yo, USA) is experienced, tenacious, and reserved. She's driven by a fear of being left behind. The end of her career coming up, but she isn't ready to hang up her helmet just yet: "She is too young to watch herself be surpassed, and too old to be this hungry. She thinks she is too young to give up her dreams, and too old to want them this much. But she is both too young and too old, possibly, to change herself. And how many years left on Earth?" One of the most tragic things about Helen is that another person decided how her daughter would see her. Eventually, it would become how she saw herself.
Sergei (45yo, Russia) is straightforward and pessimistic, with some antisocial tendencies. He presents himself like the man he wishes he was and is motivated by the urge to prove his father wrong.
Yoshi (37yo, Japan) is thoughtful, professional, and likable. He's the most adaptable and easygoing of the group, but he's also prone to bouts of melancholy.

Intense focus on what was happening in the present eclipsed all else, but things do not disappear during an eclipse, only disappear from view.

The effects of isolation and confinement on the astronauts is what I came for, but it was their relationships with their families that ended up being the most intriguing. The Prime team is aware that the astronauts are very careful about how they present themselves, so they believe the family members might provide them with better insight. Yoshi's wife Madoka observes that the tightly controlled conditions of the simulation are actually less extreme than everyday life on Earth. The astronauts have each other, but the family members are all dealing with some form of isolation as they deal with being left behind.

Prime Space team & the Families:
Luke is a member of the observation team. The "Obbers" monitor the astronauts for signs of psychological distress.
Mireille is Helen's daughter. She's vulnerable and emotional, which she channels into her acting. Her whole life has been overshadowed by her mother's career. She resents mother for repeatedly putting her career first. She doesn't want her mother's story to define her life and she wishes that she didn't need to be loved so much. Her nickname is Meeps, which made me feel irrationally irritated!
Madoka is Yoshi's eccentric wife and a sales operative for a company that manufactures robotic caregivers. Over the years, she has become a "kind of ancillary tool to the Voyages of Yoshi." Her marriage to Yoshi looks strong to the outside world, but it's actually hollow at the core. She's relieved when he goes away for long periods of time because it's exhausting to keep up the pretense of being Yoshi's "awesome" wife.
Dimitri is Sergei's sixteen-year-old son. He feels inadequate next to his father and brother. He's gay but isn't ready to admit it to himself or anyone else.

There's so much value in getting the family members' perspectives, but there was too much activity on Earth. Madoka's story is the most refined, so she was my favorite. One thing I really liked about the astronaut chapters was their interactions with each other. The family members operated more like independent satellites. I know that's the point, but it made those chapters less interesting for me. My favorite section involving the families was the prelaunch dinner when Madoka and Mireille both engaged in a bit of play acting.

“Why shouldn’t we feel awe? In front of a beautiful painting we do not ask ourselves is it real? We know that it is not real. It is a painting. But we can still be filled with awe at its beauty.”

My reading experience mirrored some of the characters' experiences. This book really messed with my own sense of a reality! I felt awed by the enormity of space when I read Good, Morning Midnight, even though it was fiction. The characters were actually experiencing outer space, so I felt like I was too. The characters in The Wanderers were in a simulation, so that altered my experience. BUT THEN, paranoia sets in. One of the astronauts sees a glitch that makes them suspect they might actually be in space. With a real launch and a simulated launch occuring at the same time it was always a possibility, but that was the first real clue that something shady might be going on. A switch flipped in me; should I have been reading it differently the whole time? The glitch isn't the point; it's how the astronauts, and perhaps the reader, react to it.

To orbit the earth is not to be shot up to some magical zone where there is no gravity, but to be shot up in such a trajectory that your subsequent fall means you won't hit anything; you will persistently and permanently miss the Earth and circle around it. To have done this is to understand the persistence and permanence of falling and to understand that what is true does not always feel like what is true.

The word planet comes from the ancient Greek word for wanderer. The planets "move in relation to each other and the stars, but they don't wander all over." You can't see all of a planet or moon at once, and in some cases, you'll never see all their faces. Similarly, the characters are only partially visible to each other. Everyone in this book is putting up a facade, concealing parts of themselves from each other, and even from themselves. Being the person they think they're supposed to be prevents their relationships from being as fulfilling as they could be. The avoidance of feeling or causing pain puts a wall between these characters.

Yoshi will not just be pretending that he is going to Mars, he will be pretending to be the most perfect person to go to Mars, and maybe he is, almost without question, he is, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have to pretend to be what he really is, because aren’t we all pretending to be who we really are?

To some extent, all of these characters live in self-created artificial environments. So between the simulation and the characters' facades, what's real? It's complicated! I'm reminded of Madoka reflecting on the contradictions in her marriage. She acknowledges that the outside perception of her marriage as solid has some truth to it, but the hollow reality of her marriage is also true. At one point, Helen becomes so used to her altered self in the outside simulations that her real self looks fake. Some of the characters realize that they've spent much of their lives reacting to situations that they've dreamed up; both Yoshi and Mireille mention being affected by conversations and situations that only occurred in their heads. Regardless of what's actually happened, all the emotions and reactions awakened by their experiences are very real. On a personal level, the events of this book reminded me of dreams. Every once in a while, I'll wake up irritated with my husband because of something he did in my dream. It's completely irrational, but it felt so real at the time! And like Mireille, I've sometimes worked myself up over an argument that I've acted out in my head.

(Letter from Yoshi to Madoka) Pluto and Charon show each other only one face, never turning away. ... In astronomy, we use the word barycenter to describe the center of mass between two orbiting objects. Our Luna is smaller than Earth, and so the barycenter of Earth and Luna is on Earth, deep within it, actually. Because Charon is so large, and its gravitational influence so great, the barycenter of Pluto and Charon lies outside Pluto. Strictly speaking, Charon does not orbit Pluto, nor Pluto, Charon. They rotate around a barycenter between them. Looking only at one piece of each other. .... I have come to believe that I have loved you incorrectly. I have been orbiting a dream I cannot touch. I only know one of your faces. It is not that I didn’t want to know another face, it is that I loved that one so powerfully. Maybe I did not wish to know. There is a possibility that you are like Luna, and you see all my faces while I see only one of yours. But, forgive me, I do not think this is true. I think we are mutually locked. Perhaps this is what it means to be married. Perhaps this is what it means to be married to me. I saw a little of you, and thought it was everything. I understand that I was wrong.

You don't have to travel to space to experience the unknown. In their isolation, these characters are forced to confront long-buried demons. They can no longer avoid seeing the obvious in order to protect themselves. Helen insists on not changing or feeling too much on the simulation so that she can feel or change more during the real trip to Mars, but the change is unavoidable. As much as they fight it, they'll all be irrevocably altered by their experience. The Wanderers is a quiet novel without much of a plot, but it provides many thought-provoking ideas to explore.

* "For a mistake that measured 1/50th the width of a human hair, a two billion-dollar telescope was almost lost." - More details about this incident is available here (#4 on the list). Mike Massimino talks about another incident with the Hubble Telescope in his book Spaceman, which is one of my favorite memoirs ever. His thoughts during the stressful situation made me laugh, even though I know it wasn't very funny at the time: "This would be my legacy. My children and grandchildren would read in their classrooms: We might have known if there was life on other planets, but Gabby and Daniel’s dad broke the Hubble."
* The Madoka/robotic caretaker sections reminded me of two excellent short stories I read recently. They are both available online: Tongtong's Summer by Xia Jia (included in Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation compiled by Ken Liu) and Saying Goodbye to Yang (included in Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein)
* Speaking of eclipses, the total solar eclipse is coming up on August 21, 2017! We're only getting the 67% version here in Houston. :(

I received this book for free from Netgalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It's available now!
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
July 6, 2017
I like all kinds of books.

I generally don't have much of a problem getting into SF that happens to be more about family and interpersonal drama than about space... but I do like to know that this is what I'm getting into.

By all accounts, the extended opening felt like a glorious character-driven lead-up to a tight and absorbing journey to Mars. But when the interpersonal stuff took over and most of the page space was devoted to different family members, all of which stayed behind, I had to conclude that this whole book wasn't really about Mars or the journey for the three Astronauts, even though the tale centered on them. It merely had the cool journey be a pivot for deep internal monologs and stream of consciousness. It really could have been set anywhere. It just happened to have space travel as the spice.

The plot really isn't that important.

The character studies are where this book shines. From issues of being gay to finding a balance in your life or even the ideas of what is art and despair, it does shine.

I wonder if this is going to be a new "thing", though. I've been reading title after title lately that is just mainstream topics and exploration with just a tad of science or science fiction. Maybe one dystopia here or one exploration there, but the rest is just a mainstream novel that could have been marketed so easily as another genre.

Don't get me wrong. It's fine. But I am quite fond of my science and my science fiction. I'm used to my SF having truly glorious themes and explorations and complicated structures. I'm just not sure what I think about bare-bones and mild A-to-B SF plots becoming a carrier vectors for other genres.

Otherwise, the writing is quite good and I otherwise probably wouldn't have had any complaints.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
December 22, 2017
2.75ish stars.

This is a story about the struggle to connect and communicate and about the balance between (selfishly?) finding and fulfilling one's identity and how that may come at the expense of sharing one's life with those whom they love and who need them. It shows the dissonance between three astronauts who seemingly know exactly what their goals are and where their lives are going (Mars), and people they love who are wandering, floating, just trying to figure things out, with and without their astronauts. We find that each character, astronauts included, is wandering in their own way, and aren't we all?

I get a lot of vibes similar to Good Morning, Midnight which also has peripheral space exploration elements and explores some similar themes. One of the things that makes that book work better for me, despite its more grim tone, is the focus on only two perspectives. The character portraits in The Wanderers are still nuanced but some of the seven POVs seem excessive and unnecessary. Especially the awkward seventh wheel dude, what was his name, Jason? Nick? I honestly can't remember.

Thrown in are the shared experiences and the dynamics between the three astronauts who get matched together because of their apparent compatibility in preparation for a mission to Mars. I got some serious claustrophobia reading about their increasing paranoia while living in a bubble as their actions are scrutinized not only by those in charge of the Mars mission, but by their families and the world at large, on account of their being some of the most recognizable people on Earth. Which is interesting because they're not even in space yet, just in simulation somewhere in Utah . That's about as much plot as there is, and even then it almost takes away from the intimate character studies. It's a lovely book but one that I didn't connect with emotionally as much as I'd like to have.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Laura F-W.
191 reviews144 followers
January 26, 2020
The Wanderers: a very long journey that’ll have you asking “Are we nearly there yet?”

Alarm bells should have rung at the dust jacket's comparison to both The Martian and Station Eleven; one of those is a fast-paced space romp, the other a gentle and profound meditation on the place of art in a post-apocalyptic world. The only real similarity between the two is that they made a tonne of money.

The overzealous publisher who made that comparison handed The Wanderers some big ole space boots to fill; boots that it sloshes around in, eventually coming untethered and floating off into the starry vastness.

Here’s the concept: obscenely rich private space exploration company Prime are putting together the first manned mission to Mars. They choose three astronauts at the top of their game who must undergo an intensely observed 17-month simulation in a spaceship parked up in the Utah desert. If they manage to refrain from cracking up they will be sent to the red planet for real.

The astronauts are a portrait of calm and competence:

- Helen is a space veteran, an emotionally reserved widow and mother to grown-up daughter Mireille, who is a budding actor. Helen and Mireille have a less-than-perfect relationship, but it’s nowhere near flawed enough to be interesting.

- Yoshi is a veteran astronaut and married to a self-contained and competent woman Madoka, who sells robots. They love and respect each other.

- Sergei is a father of two teenage boys who has conscientiously and amicably divorced from his wife. His oldest son Dmitri is struggling with his sexuality while living in NYC/NJ and his youngest son is a badass who doesn’t give a shit.

SO, what on earth will happen when these three seemingly psychologically robust superhumans are held in a tin can for a year and a half? Will they slowly lose their minds? Will egos collide and comical misunderstandings ensue? Will they do weird sex stuff?

I’m going to do a compassionate spoiler here, so look away if you really must….

….none of that happens. In fact, nothing really fucking happens.

As it turns out, when a super-rich company carefully chooses the best astronauts the planet has to offer, those people are mindful, well prepared and resilient. Cue almost 400 pages of three characters getting on quite well with each other and being very good at their jobs.

There is one point, around 70% through, where a plot pokes its wormy little head out of the red sands… only to burrow back inside and disappear forever.

It was opaque throughout what the point was. There was no detectable attempt at dramatic tension. The obvious source of poetry – space exploration, the wonder of the universe, etc - was pretty much ignored, and there was much more navel-gazing than stargazing. Really, it was rather dull.

(With thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in return for an honest review)
Profile Image for Carlos.
621 reviews292 followers
February 24, 2017
I don't know what to think about this book, for one I appreciate it's focus on the psychological aspect of the human mind when it's pushed to the extreme and all that this entails on a physical level as well. The main characters are in a simulation for most of the book , they are training to go to Mars and need to spend time together in a fake landing to see if they are psychologically prepared for the real thing , you can see how they are pressured and how they bend but not break, you get to see their personal lives and all the characters that it entails. But I can honestly said that while all of that is appreciated by me , I did not have fun reading this one .... it was too technical to be fiction and too internally focused to be a non fiction book..... maybe I wasn't the right person to read this .... But if you are looking for another "The martian" ,(as I was ) this is not it!.
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,479 reviews19.4k followers
February 28, 2018
This was... interesting. I feel like I would have liked this so much more if there were less perspectives. I was constantly getting characters confused and I couldn’t keep anything straight. BUT. I really did like the concept of this, so I think I’ll do a re-read down the line and I predict I’ll enjoy it significantly more when that time comes.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
899 reviews150 followers
October 29, 2016
Not all who read THE WANDERERS will be lost, but more than a few might scratch their heads and wonder who this book is supposed to be for. It's like someone read THE MARTIAN and thought, "this is atrociously written" (a viewpoint I am more than sympathetic to), but then stripped out all the wonder and humour and tension from it while adding some wonderfully-written metaphors. Do well-written books have to be dull character studies full of apathetic, uninspiring protagonists? I refuse to believe it!
Profile Image for Noah Nichols.
Author 3 books112 followers
August 3, 2017
Have a hankering for some vanilla flavoring? Then you should scoop up this weak offering! With no feeling and no anything, really...this lifeless novel is already my most disappointing read of 2017 (you're presently second, Everything Matters!).

Straight up, Meg Howrey has written one of the dullest we're-going-to-Mars-now novels that I have ever had the displeasure of trudging through. The Wanderers is a suckfest as well as a snoozefest—yup, it's a TWOFER! F this B. If all books were like this book in some new wave alternative reality, I believe that mostly everybody would learn to hate fiction.

I award this thing no points, and may God have mercy on its nonexistent soul.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
845 reviews808 followers
February 17, 2017
If you want or expect a sci-fi or dystopian novel, then you may be disappointed. Fortunately, I was not, and experienced it on the merits of a mildly speculative but mostly literary novel about characters facing the challenge of authenticity vs. representation, and their very (and sometimes fluid) definitions. An American astronaut, Helen Kane, a Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Kuznetsov, and a Japanese taikonaut, Yoshihiro Tanaka, spend 17 months together in a simulated mission to Mars and back, ( a test-run for the real thing, which would come afterward) run by a space corporation intent on selecting the best astronauts of different nationalities.

The drama of a simulated journey on their spaceship, Primitus, captures the theme of the tale, about who we are, and what creates and maintains our genuine self, as well as our temptation to deceive others and ourselves in relationships. The narrative is best when we are thrust inside the struggles of identity.

“I forget what I am because I have been so long simulating the man I wish to be that I now believe myself to be this man.”

As the characters alternate with the chapters, we witness the thoughts, behaviors, and experiences of the astronauts; a member of the ground mission team; Helen’s grown daughter; Sergei’s two young sons, and Yoshi’s wife. Another common motif that is braided into the simulation theme is the idea of boundaries, borders, space--not just outer space, but psychological and physical space.

“This is an opportunity to reflect on what the best of us is capable of, what we can accomplish when we put everything aside…for a common goal. My mom has always talked about how you can’t see borders from space…” What happens to our relationships, to our sense of self, when boundaries are disrupted from the norm?

Although this is a simulated mission, the astronauts must treat it as a true undertaking. Howrey’s research is impressive; she combines aerospace engineering in specific and defined ways that convince me that she knows her stuff. However, I never felt laden down with dry and technical exposition. It was always saliently woven into the story--the confinement of three very different but complementary high achievers who are tested like never before. As the experts on earth create and impose spacecraft and environmental challenges on the crew, the three astronauts must act without delay. There are other heavy challenges as well, such as isolation, lack of privacy, and separation from loved ones.

Along the way, the curtain is pulled back on the personal lives of the astronauts. There’s the death of Helen’s husband and how it continues to affect her relationship with her daughter, Mireille, and the attempt of Mireille to own her life--one not defined by her mother’s mission to Mars. There’s a deep wedge of grief between them, and unresolved matters about Helen’s husband. “…you had to be so careful with grief. It was like an impact crater, its surface always larger than the thing that created it.”

Sergei, who had an amicable divorce, has an arm’s length relationship with his two sons. The chapters about Sergei's son, Dmitri, which focused on a teen in torment, occasionally felt like too much of a sublet to the story in front of me. It grabbed my attention, but it didn’t feel fluent with the story at hand. It kept with the theme of identity and living an authentic life, but I didn't feel a palpable connection between Sergei and his sons.

And, most enigmatic and mysterious of all is the relationship between Yoshi and his wife, Madoka. Madoka observes that her marriage to Yoshi is perceived by others to be happy and solid, strong and trusting. She also identifies that her marriage might have a solid surface, but may be empty inside. There were numerous references to being an actor in your own life, for several of the characters. The question that permeated the story was whether your authentic self was organic, or whether authenticity is merely an actor playing yourself. Do they merge? Which one is real--the self that emerges without calculation, or the one that we choose to be? It reminded me a bit of Hamlet’s conception of being-ness.

The smooth, symbolic prose kept me fastened to both the mission and the characters. It was balanced and inevitably suggestive—reminding us that people, like space, cannot be pinned down. And between what is simulated and what is “real” may just be semantics.
Profile Image for Sarah.
733 reviews73 followers
March 20, 2017
This really wasn't at all what I was expecting. I thought "Hey! They go to Mars! Awesome!" but without that many exclamation points.

The story is about three astronauts who are training to go to Mars. They're sent to a training facility that exactly mimics what they believe Mars will be like so they can prepare both mentally and physically before leaving. It's not just about the three astronauts/cosmonauts, however. It also spends time with each of the family members; Helen's daughter, Yoshi's wife, and Sergei's children. The story goes in depth into each character, from their thoughts to feelings to what they think about their thoughts and feelings. As an example of how in depth the story goes, it shows one of Sergei's sons struggling with accepting that he's gay and it shows the family struggles that Helen had as her daughter was growing up, as well as her daughter's opinion of these things. So it doesn't lightly touch on anything or anyone, and it's definitely not just about these astronauts.

In the blurb one of the books it's compared to is Station Eleven and for once I think the blurb is somewhat right because the feel of the book is very similar to Station Eleven.

The audio was well narrated and I think the narrator did an excellent job of capturing the feel of the book. This was a delightful book that surprised me at the end and made me feel good about people, and it made me feel hopeful.
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
617 reviews20.5k followers
June 18, 2017
The book follows the lives and relationships of three cosmonauts before they go into an isolated simulation for seventeen months.

The book is very introspective and the author goes into the inner thoughts and feelings of the main characters and its closest relatives. It is told from the different points of view of the cosmonauts as well as some family members and Prime colleagues.  

This is book is NOT like The Martian, even though they are both scfi and related to colonizing Mars the structure, plot and pace are very different.

Overall it was ok, I prefer books with a more active plot, this was very, very character oriented.

Profile Image for Sydney Young.
1,120 reviews89 followers
July 28, 2017
If you are looking for a replica of The Martian or Station Eleven, that is not this book. Instead, this book is an exploration of the humans involved in a Martian space simulation, whether by being the selected astronaut or one of the family members waiting while the 17 month Mars simulation progresses. Whether from the past or present, these people and their stories, their frailties and strengths, their hopes and worries for themselves, earth and humankind; they will touch your soul. I think if you know that going in you'll enjoy your travels through this beautiful, beautiful book.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
69 reviews25 followers
July 18, 2017
This was a Goodreads Giveaway.
The story is told from various viewpoints: the astronauts, a family member for each astronaut, and one Obber team member. This lends to the emotional insight you gain as the story progresses. I was pleasantly surprised at the layers of the story. Howrey's writing keeps you engaged when the story may otherwise seem slow.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,302 reviews27.9k followers
April 27, 2017
DNF at 50%
I saw a lot of people comparing this book to The Martian which is ridiculous, because The Martian is amazing and this is anything but. Holy shit, this book is so boring. I barlely made it to the halfway point before giving up. All the characters are so flat and boring and one dimensional and there are so many characters it's hard to keep track of them all (especially when they are all equally uninteresting). Sorry, this one just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,633 followers
April 18, 2017
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/04/17/...

In the near future, a private aerospace company called Prime Space begins preparations for their mission to put the first human beings on Mars. Within their timeline of four years, they have put in place a number of planned test runs and experiments, a key one of them being the 17-month long simulation to prove that a small crew of three can indeed survive the long and rigorous journey to the red planet—while remaining physically and psychologically healthy enough to work independently and with each other.

The company’s international team—made up of astronauts Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetzov—were not only chosen for their achievements and excellence in their field, but also for their personality profiles, backgrounds, and considerations into how well they would complement each other. Together, they will be held in isolation in a facility somewhere in a remote part of Utah, where the extremely realistic and immersive simulation will take place. During this test phase, Prime Space will be presenting the crew with all sorts of possible scenarios from technical malfunctions to personal emergencies to see how the astronauts will handle themselves in this environment. Their behaviors, actions, and conversations will all be monitored and recorded the entire time, with the data to be analyzed and evaluated by a team of psych experts.

But there’s a lot more to The Wanderers than just the story of Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei. Even people who live simple lives can have ripples of influence that spread far and wide, and for our astronauts, their ripples are especially large. Retired after decades of work at NASA, Helen Kane is almost a household name in America, but for all her fame, she cannot seem to bridge the emotional distance which exists between her and her daughter Mireille. Meanwhile, Yoshi and his wife Madoka are both very successful professionals in Japan, but because of the nature of their work, they can never be a traditional family, though neither is sure that is even what they want. And finally, there’s Sergei and his complicated relationship with his eldest son Dmitri. Following Sergei and his wife’s divorce and then his family’s subsequent move to New Jersey from Russia, Dmitri is coming of age at a very tumultuous time in his life, and he is searching for ways to tell his father who he really is.

As you can probably tell, at its heart The Wanderers is less a story about space travel and more a story about family—the complex relationships as well as the fundamental need to connect to your loved ones. The challenges that astronauts face are not limited to the endless training or the mental stresses of knowing how many things can go wrong in space, but also extends to the strain of being away so long from those nearest and dearest to them. By shifting back and forth between the perspectives of the astronaut characters and their family members, the author shows how deep some of those emotions can run. Torn between their love for spouses and children and their love for space travel and the work they do, Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei are shown to have a culture to themselves that Mireille, Madoka, and Dmitri cannot seem to understand. At times the bonds portrayed between the astronauts and their respective family members are tender, loving, and intimate; at others, the rage, guilt, regret and fear are so strong in the narrative that the negative energies are downright oppressive.

The other interesting element is Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei’s time inside of Prime Space’s simulation. Imagine being holed up in a small space with two other people for seventeen months, becoming familiar with their personalities and all their habits. Imagine knowing that 24/7 there are people watching you, recording you, making judgments on everything you say and do. Imagine being put through a simulation so realistic that after a time, the lines between what is real and what is virtually constructed become blurred to the point you can’t tell them apart anymore. As a reader, I found the implications of this very compelling, and the story does a great job making the effects on the characters disturbingly convincing.

In sum, The Wanderers is a different kind of space travel book, which made it both unique for me and also a little tough to get pulled into. While it’s true that I enjoyed quite a few things about this novel, there’s also a limit on the amount of drama and interpersonal conflict I can take. Admittedly, several times I felt this story push against those limits with its overbearing sentimentality or the characters’ angst, but on the whole, I would say I had a good time. Those would enjoyed Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Good Morning, Midnight might want to give this one a shot because I think both books explore some similar themes, though the edge probably goes to The Wanderers since it didn’t leave me feeling as gloomy or dispirited.

Audiobook Comments: I thought Mozhan Marno’s narration was very good, especially in her portrayal of the international cast of characters speaking in their respective languages with their varying accents. I would even go as far as to say her reading probably made the story better, making what might have been a 3-star read feel like a 3.5, so The Wanderers might be a good book to experience in audio if you’re interested in checking it out.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 21 books290 followers
April 26, 2017
It seems that the Goodreads reviewers who didn't like The Wanderers also didn't like Station Eleven, which is helpful, I suppose, in that it demonstrates consistently poor taste. I guess that's why they have the Lifetime Channel, for people who like their dramas with predictable beats and bathroom breaks? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Profile Image for Ashley Cruzen.
342 reviews536 followers
June 9, 2017
This was a weird one, and I'm having a hard time figuring out if I liked it or not. I think marketing was a bit of an issue, personally I think it would have done better with the VanderMeer treatment and been pushed with the literary side of fiction rather than the SFF. Or as much as I hated it, Faber's The Book of Strange New Things.

It reads like a literary novel, in that it's purely a character study of three astronauts and their families preparing for a long mission to Mars, and honestly I just didn't care about any of them. When your book is solely based on character and not plot, you have to make your characters...interesting.

I've come to find these types of genre mashups just typically aren't for me. I find myself wanting to know more about the plot in the background than the characters random thoughts. Just when this book got interesting it ended. I realize I am the type who needs resolution in my endings, so naturally this one was aggravating for me. However, as much as I wasn't really into it, I couldn't seem to give up and DNF it. I kept slogging through, hoping for a payoff that never came, unfortunately.

TLDR; If you like a good character study with a SFF setting, give this a try. If you like a bit more plot with your SFF, this probably won't float your boat.
Profile Image for Bon Tom.
856 reviews58 followers
November 8, 2019
This is clever and quite sophisticated peace of writing. Definitely multiple readings material. Parts towards the end seemed a bit rushed, to the point I thought I had abridged audio version. So I expected more drama in resolution of the plot, instead I was teleported to it, but I'm not going to be an ass an hold grudge because of it. The writing is excellent and deserves all the credits in universe, this crappy pun intended.
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
734 reviews1,433 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
June 7, 2017
DNF at page 87. Third time in over a month I've forgotten I'd been reading this. It seemed quite good at first, but I think the plot has been mis-marketed. I was getting bored with all the POVs and side stories.
Profile Image for Allen Adams.
517 reviews32 followers
March 23, 2017

There’s something to be said for books that defy easy categorization. For those of us whose reading appetites aren’t genre-bound, it can be an interesting experience to consume the kind of literature that would be at home in multiple sections of your local bookstore or library.

Granted, that genre ambiguity can bleed into a book’s overall quality, rendering it a mishmash that fails in generating any real impact on the reader. And in fact, that’s often precisely how it plays out. But when a book is buoyed by that defiance, it’s a delight to behold.

Meg Howrey’s “The Wanderers” is possessed of the right kind of ambiguity; it’s a novel that is part sci-fi adventure and part interpersonal drama, told from multiple perspectives in a well-woven narrative tapestry that embraces its influences even as it defies being defined by them.

In the near future, a private aerospace corporation called Prime is putting the pieces together for the first manned mission to Mars. The final step is the biggest – assembling and preparing the team of astronauts that will undertake the historic journey.

To that effect, Prime brings together three astronauts – American Helen Kane, Russian Sergei Kuznetsov and Japan’s Yoshi Tanaka. This trio has been chosen for their compatibility – both in terms of their skill sets and their personalities – but there’s only so much that can be determined from psych evaluations and resumes.

The solution? Seventeen months devoted to the most realistic simulation ever created. Helen, Sergei and Yoshi are to be constantly under observation by Prime teams – known colloquially as Obbers – as they attempt to successfully navigate a multitude of obstacles in order to prove their respective worthiness to be part of the real Mars mission.

However, the lines between the real and the imagined begin to blur. The mission might be simulated, but the pressures are not. As the days bleed into weeks bleed into months, each member of the trio finds themselves slowly, inexorably changing.

And so too do the people left behind. Helen’s daughter Meeps is a struggling actress with complex feelings about her famous mother. Sergei’s son Dimitri is a teenager coming to terms with his identity in the shadow of his father. And Yoshi’s wife Madoka is a robotics executive unsure of who she is or what she wants from her husband. We even get the perspective of Luke, one of the Prime Obbers who has his own complex relationship to the proceedings.

As the pretend journey begins to feel all too real, everyone involved is forced to confront the truth about what the great vastness of outer space truly means … as well as the fact that the span of inner space might be even greater.

For Howrey to produce a book like this one is both surprising and completely in character. She’s clearly unbound by genre; her previous offerings include a novel about a boy reuniting with his father (“Blind Sight”) and another about sisters in the professional dance world (“The Cranes Dance”), as well as a pair of weirdo historical fiction novels co-authored under the shared pseudonym Magnus Flyte (“The City of Dark Magic” and “The City of Lost Dreams”). A novel about the emotional underpinnings of a simulated Mars mission makes as much sense for a follow-up as anything else.

Really, the primary commonality connecting Howrey’s previous works is the fact that they’re all excellent books. And “The Wanderers” is very much in keeping with that thread.

The sci-fi structure here is quite compelling, with a plausibility that is often lost when telling a tale like this one. But it’s Howrey’s ability to delicately unspool the psychological underpinnings of her characters and their relationships that truly makes this story shine. She has a powerful knack for constructing believably complex interpersonal dynamics, webs of feeling that spread and intertwine to enwrap different characters while impacting them in different ways. She also avoids the potential pitfalls that come with utilizing multiple narrators, weaving together the various perspectives seamlessly.

“The Wanderers” isn’t a book that one could easily pigeonhole. It is smart and heartfelt and funny and sad, marked with a sophisticated simplicity. The truth is that no matter the genre in which you might place it, there’s only one label that fits it just right. And it’s the only label that matters.

Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,154 followers
April 4, 2017
Three astronauts train for the first mission to Mars. If you've ever heard of such a mission you're probably familiar with what it would entail: months upon months of isolation in a small craft during space travel. What kind of person would happily spend months without a stove or a shower or a phone? That is much of what The Wanderers is about, what makes an astronaut an astronaut and what it does to their relationships with their loved ones.

This is a finely tuned character study, where you get to know the characters quite well, particularly Helen, the lone female astronaut in her 50's. It also feels intensely researched with science that seems real. (I made the mistake of going to a mediocre space movie while reading this book and the movie's slapdash approach to science suffered greatly in comparison.)

Not only is this a book about the kind of person who prizes space and exploration above all, it's also about the way we present ourselves to others. During their training, the astronauts are being heavily monitored and much of the book is about how they present themselves to the people studying them. Their family members also have this kind of facade, a way they present themselves to the people around them, a kind of role they feel they must fulfill when all eyes are on them.

While it isn't heavy on plot, I never felt bored by this book. I also listened to the audio and enjoyed the reader quite a lot.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,492 reviews55.8k followers
March 8, 2017
Not quite what I had hoped it would be. Definitely more Station Eleven - slow, plodding, unexeceptional - than The Martian. More a study of how ridiculously well-paired personalities behave when they know their every thought and action is being closely scrutinized, when I would have enjoyed some Real World drama to break up the monotony.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,172 reviews60 followers
April 8, 2017
This is now available! You can read my extended review on my blog: http://www.margaretkingsbury.com/book...

Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei will be the first astronauts on Mars, and Prime Space will put them there. Prime Space believes these three engineers and space exploration vets have the perfect personalities to pull off this long and potentially fraught trip.

But before the trio can go to Mars, they must undergo a 17-month simulation of the trip, a simulation that feels so real that as the months drag on, the astronauts--and the reader--begin to question whether it really is a simulation.

Meanwhile, their family members struggle to be themselves when the person most important to them is gone, once again: Mireille, Helen's adult daughter, an actress who only a few years earlier lost her father, and now her 'perfect' mother leaves once more, an absence she's well familiar with; Dimitri, Sergei's teenaged son, ashamed by his gay sexuality and in need of an accepting father; and Madoka, Yoshi's wife, who performs the roll of wife and successful business woman without any real sense of living.

The Wanderers isn't a novel about space travel; it's a novel about the inner workings of the people driven to space, the affects of space travel on their families, and how long space flights can affect perceptions of the past, present, and future. It's a deeply interior novel, not driven by plot but rather the subtle opening of the characters as their many layers to ward off public perception are slowly peeled away to reveal something much more vulnerable and much more human.

I fear the blurb's analogy to Station Eleven and The Martian will put readers off, for it's only superficially similar to Station Eleven (in that it should appeal to all audiences versus only within the genre community), and while I only watched The Martian and didn't read it, the only relation I see there is that they're both about space travel. The approach is entirely different.

It's a great novel, and I will check out her other novels.

An extended review will appear on my blog soon.

Thanks to Netgalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Leah (Jane Speare).
1,421 reviews427 followers
October 24, 2016
Mars is my favorite object in space so whenever it is mentioned in a book description, I can't help but to pick it up. But as much as this is a "space book" about the first manned mission to Mars, it is not at all. It's a highly character-driven introspective narrative. Writing from a variety of viewpoints, Howrey explores and digs deep into the three astronauts' minds and those of their loved ones back on Earth. I appreciated how universal this book felt and I think Gene Roddenberry would have been impressed by how viscerally human nature is expressed. This book turned out way different than I had initially imagined, and I was notably surprised at every turn and it left me wanting more. The Wanderers is a book for people who are in love with space, life, and the unknown of both.
Profile Image for Leah Bayer.
567 reviews214 followers
May 19, 2017
This is a book that I think is going to suffer from terrible marketing. I have seen multiple blurbs that state it is The Martian x Station Eleven. I guess that's true if by that you mean that they have vaguely connected elements (astronauts and uh... being alone?). But then you might as well say that The Wanderers is Brokeback Mountain x Halo, because it has gay characters and video games.

Even though I knew it probably wouldn't be what the blurb promised, I still felt let down by The Wanderers. The premise is fantastic, but it feels bogged down by multiple, pointless side stories. We get the perspective of three astronauts who are doing a "test run" of a Mars mission in a desert in Utah. But we also get the perspectives of their family members (one for each astronaut, so 3 in total) and the perspective of one of the men assigned to watch the test run. Which gives us a whopping total of 7 perspectives in what is honestly a pretty short novel. It's too many! I honestly only liked 3 of them in total (2 of the astronauts and 1 of the family members), and basically every family member added nothing to the plot besides "it's hard to have a parent/husband who is often in space." Like wow, I actually could have guessed that one all on my own! Some of the stories, like Dmitri's, were actually kind of cute but they didn't connect at ALL to the main plot so reading them felt odd and disjointed.

The writing here is lovely, but the plot is a hot mess. You'd think a story revolving around 3 people spent in fake isolation for a year and a half would get very strange and psychological. Well, about 70% of the way in some very cool elements of paranoia are introduced, but like every other story thread they are quickly wrapped up or dropped entirely. This did have the core of a very strong book. If it was just Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei in "fake space" as they slowly started to lose their grip on reality, it could have been spectacular. Easily a 5-star book. Instead it's an odd sort of family drama that touches lightly on a lot of really cool elements but never gives the reader a good look at any of them.
Profile Image for Marjorie.
551 reviews57 followers
February 10, 2017
Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov and Yoshihiro Tanaka have been chosen by Prime Space to possibly be the first astronauts to land on Mars. But first they have to prove themselves by submitting to a closely studied simulation of the flight, which will take 17 months. They don’t have a minute’s privacy as they’re constantly watched by employees of Prime Space. The simulation is so realistic that it’s sometimes hard for the astronauts to believe they’re not really on their way to Mars. Meanwhile, their families await the return of the astronauts as they deal with their own issues.

The spotlight in this book isn’t so much on space travel as it is on the effect of that travel on those who venture out into the unknown. The author takes a close look at the hearts and minds of the three astronauts who so long to see what has never been seen before – their fears, their hopes and also their guilt for leaving their families so often. This is a beautiful character study with great insight told in a poetic and sometimes humorous manner. I wasn’t surprised to read that the author had been a ballerina as she has the heart of an artist. This engrossing book brought back all the excitement and wonder of the 1960’s space travel to the moon and reminded me of what a special time in history that was.


This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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