The Wanderers by Meg Howrey: The Most Unique Book I’ve Read This Year

April 13, 2017 Fiction 27

The Wanderers, Meg HowreyFiction
Released March 14, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by G.P. Putnam)


The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year.

Plot Summary

Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.

Why I Read It

I really liked The Martian and Station Eleven (two books The Wanderers has been compared to) and heard good reports from Rebecca Schinsky on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and from Michelle at That’s What She Read.

Major Themes

Space travel, psychological implications of long separations from family, how people behave when they’re being monitored 24/7, extreme stress

What I Loved

  • The Wanderers is first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. They must get used to isolation from the world, living in cramped quarters for long periods of time with their 3-person crew, the physical affects of the mission, and the extreme pressure to perform perfectly or risk death.
  • Early on, you get glimpses of the tiny ways each astronaut is hiding personality deficiencies that, if really explored, could possibly compromise their spots on the crew. And, part of the suspense of the story is wondering if and/or how these will eventually blow up.
  • I loved getting the perspectives of each astronaut’s family and the impact of the astronauts’ stature and long absences on the families left behind. Each family deals with this in a different way…from a daughter who finds it difficult to live in her successful mother’s shadow to a son who starts acting out to a wife who questions whether she misses her husband at all.

If her mother goes to Mars, then that will be the only story of Mireille’s life. It will wipe out everything. Mireille wants to stay with that thought a little, but promises herself she will return to it later, when she has more time to savor how awful it is.

  • I’ve realized lately that I love snarky humor, especially when it’s somewhat unexpected. Let me stress that The Wanderers is not a funny book. But, there is very subtle humor and I especially appreciated what I’ll call the “corporate snark” (i.e. making fun of the “drink the Koolaid” vibe of Prime Space).

Nobody is allowed to say the words crash or explosion within a ten-kilometer radius of Prime Space. Suggested alternatives are: RUSE (Rapid Unplanned Separation Event) and learning experience.

  • I’d be remiss not to address the comparison to The Martian. What The Wanderers is and what it isn’t. It’s less scientific, there is far less on-the-edge-of-your-seat action (after all, this crew is in a simulator…they’re not actually risking death), it’s far more psychological, and you will recognize terms and some of the science from The Martian (“sol”, anyone?). It also as some weird Mary Roach-style scientific anecdotes about space (i.e. they recycle poop into the lining of the spacecraft as a barrier against cosmic radiation).
  • I’m not particularly interested in space or Mars, but Howrey made it fascinating for me by focusing on the psychology (how to pick the team, personality traits that are valuable, how those traits translate into good or bad things in the real world, and how people behave when monitored 24/7).  She truly made me appreciate the wonder of being in space even though this crew never left the ground.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The Wanderers has been knocked in reviews for moving at a glacial pace and lacking action. It’s true, there isn’t a ton of action and certainly nothing like the pace of The Martian. But, I disagree that nothing happens. These astronauts and their families go on a psychological journey, coming out different people than they were going in. There are definitely some slow points and times where the story veers off onto philosophical tangents, but they didn’t dampen my love for this book.

A Defining Quote

There are many things that can go wrong in the first minutes of leaving Earth and most of them come with a decision-making window of less than five seconds. If you are an astronaut it means that you are someone who can assess and react quickly. If you are a great astronaut it means that while your mental and physical reactions operate at top speed, your emotional reactions are stately and glacial. The combination that works best is someone who only needs four seconds to get to: This is what we need to do, and four months to get to: Gee, I’m a little bit uncomfortable.

Good for People Who Like…

Space, Mars, stories about mothers and daughters, stories about fathers and sons, unconventional families, gorgeous writing, unexpected humor, snarky humor, style books.

Other Books You May Like

Another novel about humans on Mars:
The Martian by Andy Weir

A nonfiction book about the scientific oddities of space:
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

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27 Responses to “The Wanderers by Meg Howrey: The Most Unique Book I’ve Read This Year”

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Definitely – it’s a “literary” space book…gorgeous writing.

  1. Angela

    I really love the sound of this one – it’s on my TBR, but now I want to move it to the top of my list! It kind of reminds me of one of my favorite books from last year, Good Morning, Midnight – part of that book follows a space crew as they return from a mission to Jupiter.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Honestly, I didn’t feel like the pace was particularly slow when I was reading it. It’s definitely not a page turner, but I never felt like it dragged. That was more of a common theme I saw in other reviews after I finished the book…which I kind of refute.

      I wonder if people went in expecting a pace similar to The Martian and were disappointed?

  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    I’m still on the fence about this one. The fact that you liked it so much makes me want to give it a try, but the slowish, more psychological story worries me. I think I’ll keep it on my list, give the sample a try and decided from there. Great review with lots of good info!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I honestly didn’t feel like the pace was particularly slow when I was reading it. It’s definitely not a page turner, but I never felt like it dragged. That was more of a common theme I saw in other reviews after I finished the book. But, if the psychology piece doesn’t interest you, then maybe don’t jump on it.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh – I loved the writing style! That was one of the things I really liked about it. But, writing style is such a personal thing, so I totally understand.

  3. Michelle

    This is a fantastic breakdown of the story. Interestingly enough, the more distance I have from the book, the more I really, really like it.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      And you really loved it right when you read it, so that’s super great news! Such a nuanced book.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I personally didn’t feel like the pace was “glacial”…that was more of a common theme I found in other reviews after I finished the book. I was kind of surprised to see so much of that feedback to be honest. I wonder if people expected the pace of The Martian…it’s definitely not that.

  4. Catherine

    Hhhmmm…based on the sound of this it’s one I’ll read at a later date- when I can get it at the library. Did you read The Book of Strange New Things? It was set in space and was largely psychological with a slower pace.

    • Kate Elkins

      I read The Book of Strange New Things. I thought it was fascinating, and after I finished, I wasn’t ready to leave the characters- which is always a good thing. Good review, Sarah. I like subtle humor! I’m intrigued by this one. However, I just treated myself to Margaret Drabble’s “The Dark Flood Rises,” and I’m anxious to dive into that one right now. More subtle humor – first lines of the book: “She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in this world will prove to be ‘You bloody old fool’ or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, ‘you fucking idiot.’ As the speeding car hits the tree, or the unserviced boiler explodes…those will be her last words.” Could be more for the “over 60 set” (of which I am surprised every day to find myself a member) but I suspect there is wisdom for any age.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I was kind of on the fence about whether to recommend this one to you. Haven’t read Strange New Things..I remember hearing about it, but never picked it up.

  5. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    This sounds so good! I loved The Martian, so you had me from that comparison, but the focus of this book on the astronauts psychological state and the more subtle humor also sound like a lot of fun. I’m actually putting this on hold right now 🙂

      • Katie @ Doing Dewey

        You may have noticed this from my blog, but I did actually pick this up because of your recommendation and I really enjoyed it! I agree that even though it’s dissimilar from The Martian in many ways, it was also a great read. It was surprisingly funny and the focus on the psychology of the characters was fascinating.

        • Sarah Dickinson

          Yay – so glad you loved it! That’s a book that isn’t for everyone, but I loved it!

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