Well, it’s happened again. I promised myself that I would get through Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer, since there have been quite a few books on my list that I ended up putting down. But after giving it a concerted effort for about 25% of the novel, I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to put it down for good.
The 1950’s and 1960’s were a hard time in science fiction, from the perspective of a modern reader at least. For me, many of the novels from this period seem to suffer from an abundance of exposition and a dearth of character development, such that the novels become very slow and hard to read. I can see why these books were Hugo Award winners back then (The Wanderer was too!), but the style of writing is just not for me.
Like Heinlein, Leiber has really good ideas. The Wanderer is about a planet that appears in the sky next to the moon one evening, and follows a group of people as they deal with this event. Apparently there are aliens and everything! (I read the Wikipedia page to find out what happened.) But, for me, this book suffers from three big problems, two of which I mentioned above.
The first two are rather intertwined. The writing style is very heavy on exposition and description of setting and action, but at the same time, there’s absolutely no description of what the characters are thinking, who they are, and how they will come to be changed by these events. I understand the audience for science fiction back then was younger boys, so it makes sense that the stories are heavy on action and light on character development. But from a 2022 adult reading perspective, this really bogs the story down.
If you’ve ever seen a movie that’s jam packed full of action, and yet at the end you still couldn’t help but feel like nothing happened, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It was the same with this book.
The third issue I had with the novel was that it jumped around between characters really quickly. I’m not sure if this was a selling point for the novel in 1964, but it was really jarring and annoying. In some passages, we were on to another character every paragraph. At that pace, it’s simply impossible to come to care about the characters enough to want to keep reading. Unfortunately, focusing on the wrong stakes is still a problem that stories suffer from today.
So that’s about it. I’ve put down The Wanderer and will pick up Dune next. I know many loved that book, and the recent movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve, was phenomenal, so I’m really looking forward to reading it.
Stay tuned for that review!