I was delighted to receive a copy of Meg Howrey’s latest novel, The Wanderers, ahead of its publication today! I had spotted this book and its gorgeous cover on social media and was immediately intrigued to find out more, and was excited to read this story about three astronauts and their respective journeys.
‘She thinks she is too young to give up her dreams, and too old to want them this much.’
The focus for The Wanderers is a planned mission to send a crew to Mars in four years time. In preparation, Prime Space must assemble an appropriate team of astronauts and carry out the relevant observations and tests to ensure they have what it takes to carry out the mission and all that it may throw at them. The first of these astronauts we are introduced to is Helen Kane. Helen is a woman in her fifties whose life has been devoted to space exploration. In space she feels like she is her best self, so when an opportunity arises for her to take a place on this new mission, she is keen to seize it with both hands. However, there are things that leave Helen conflicted – particularly the prospect of leaving her daughter behind, a daughter who needs her more than ever. In The Wanderers, Meg Howrey has presented not only a story of three remarkable individuals and their journey into space, but also the stories of those people they must leave behind, and how the mission impacts their family bonds and complex relationships. Alongside Helen on this mission are fellow astronauts Yoshi and Sergei, both highly respected in their field and grouped along with Helen based on their character traits and personalities. Together, they embark on a gruelling 17 month simulation to ensure they are prepared fully for the journey of their lives. And within their confined space away from home, they are also left to dwell on those loved ones left behind, to ask questions of their own lives and loves.
‘A simulation of reality still exists in time and space and, if you are inside it, has a blood pressure, a heart rate, a nervous system, all the usual suspects. You don’t stop being a real person just because you aren’t in a real place.’
I was intrigued from the start by the premise and found the prospect of the Mars mission itself to be an exciting backdrop to what is a very human story. It is clear that Howrey has devoted a lot of time and dedication into researching space travel in order to provide fascinating detail that adds an authenticity to the story. As someone who is fascinated by space I found this really interesting and didn’t feel at any point that I was being inundated with excess information. But what I liked best about this book was the portrayal of humanity and its complexity told through the individual’s stories. It alternates between the perspectives of Helen, Yoshi and Sergei as well as their family members. We see the impact on Helen’s daughter Mireille as she contemplates spending years without her mother by her side. We see the cracks forming in Yoshi’s relationship with wife Madoka, who is left to question her own life choices after Yoshi’s absence leaves her feeling a little isolated. Then there is Sergei’s son Dmitri, and how he feels when his father is beyond his reach, as he is left alone to deal with something he believes has been well hidden. Throughout the simulation both the crew and their loved ones are observed by ‘obbers’ who analyse them physically and psychologically as the challenges they face increase and their proposed journey looms ever closer. This provides a remarkable glimpse at human emotion, exploring the image we like to portray of ourselves in the open, when we know we are being watched, along with those thoughts and emotions that we keep a little closer.
‘The perimeters, the edges of life had moved away on Mars. There was nothing here to bind you. Nothing already made. Nothing already constructed. No people who came before you. No culture, no language, no one to recognize you.’
The Wanderers is an enjoyable read about love, life and exploration in which we get a glimpse of three families and the remarkable journey they embark upon, both physically and emotionally.
The Wanderers was published on 6th April 2017 by Scribner. Many thanks to Emma Finnigan for providing a copy for review.