What To Know About Wayward (Dogs, Dolly Parton, Divining the Future, And More)


I get emails. Realistically, I’ve been getting a certain kind of email since around, ohh, March of 2020, which often wants to dance around the question — or ask it directly — of whether or not I *booming voice* PREDICTED THE FUTURE. After all, in Wanderers, out in 2019, I wrote about a global pandemic that comes from bats that releases in a contentious election year during the rise of Christofascist white nationalism aaaand, well, yeah. Obviously, this isn’t the goal. I’m not setting out to predict the future, despite, um, also predicting Elon Musk was gonna be a bad guy (see: Invasive, 2017). Rather, I’m trying to talk about the present, hoping to contextualize what’s going on around me and, even more myopically, in my own crazy head. Like, I got anxieties, and I’m gonna put them on each page like a smashed butterfly.

Wayward is, of course, not a book I really intend to be itself a predictive engine either, despite one of its characters being a predictive intelligence called Black Swan. Still, I get a lot of questions over email — or at the book events I’ve done recently — and I thought, hey, why not talk about some of this stuff. Questions not just about the prediction stuff but about the book in general.

So, let’s do this.

Chuck, what the fuck did you unleash this time??

I have no idea. I will say that this book contains very little Actual Fucking Pandemic. It is not fresh pandemic. It is old, now-finished pandemic. It’s the world thereafter. (Five years after, actually.)

In fact, this book is way more about the plague of artificial intelligence rather than the plague of, um, plague. The virus isn’t a virus. It’s what can be wrought by artificial intelligence when it’s allowed to go unchecked, for better or for worse. Thankfully, I don’t think this will really be a big thing in the news —

*checks news*

Uhhh

*quickly closes news*

*checks social media*

Uhhhhhhh

*shuts down computer, throws it into the yard, lets the rain kill it*

Goddamnit, Wendig. What sentient machine hell did you set upon us?

Nothing, obviously — even in Wanderers, it was clear they were training Black Swan on making content (the book contains recipes and poems and such), which is not a notion I made up, obviously, and in fact, the expert in talking about such things is easily Janelle Shane, whose book You Look Like A Thing And I Love You is a wonderfully weird examination of this. So, I know right now it’s a bit of a boilover in terms of OH MY GOD ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS MAKING SORTA GOOD CONTENT NOW OH GOD OH SHIT, and I think that fear is (somewhat) warranted and I think it’s very important to have these conversations but I am definitely not having that conversation right now.

(I note though I’ve stopped using the AI Art generators for a whole host of reasons. That I’ll talk about soon enough.)

Definitely don’t go read this story about Loab, the creepy woman haunting the art made by artificial intelligence, though. I warned you. Don’t click it.

(You clicked it, didn’t you.)

Can’t you just write a book about puppies and save us all the hassle?

That has been the joke, quite often, and it’s why I put a dog in Wayward. A golden retriever. Gumball, the Very Good Boy.

Oh god, you kill the dog don’t you.

At present, there is no entry for Wayward at the vital online resource, Does The Dog Die, but certainly someone here could feel free to add one.

But, since you probably wanna know now

Here’s the answer in ROT13 cipher.

Thzonyy gur Irel Tbbq Obl qbrf abg va snpg qvr, naq ur fheivirf gur obbx vagnpg. Ohg, yvxr nyy punenpgref va guvf obbx, Thzonyy qrsvavgryl tbrf guebhtu fbzr fuvg. Fbzr erny rzbgvbany fuvg. Ohg ur’f svar ng gur raq.

Plug that in at ROT13.com and you’re good to go.

I note the book is actually very animal-heavy. Which, I think, makes a sort of sense: as humanity has waned, the wild rises back up. Plus, I’m fundamentally lazy and greedy as a writer and I love to use things that interest me and delight me, so putting in foxes and wolves and other such critters is fun for me. It’s why the book contains so much rock-and-roll too. References and such. Hell, Dolly Parton is a character in the book. Sorta.

You leave Dolly Parton alone, you monster!

That’s not a question, but I’ll answer it anyway. She’s not a huge character in the book and it’s more that there are stories about Dolly Parton in the book told by another character. It’s that she has survived the end of the world and is still out there, Doing Good Things, and also, she’s Fighting Apocalypse Nazis in her own very Dolly Parton way, and I had a lot of fun writing that.

Though I also note there’s a whole bit in there about her and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which was also news recently, so. Um. Yeah. Oops?

Don’t lie. Is this book just really depressing? It’s about the end of the world after a global pandemic, for shit’s sake. Is it just an 800-page journey through the streets of Bummertown?

It sounds like it would be. Apocalyptic novels can be, of course. You read Cormac’s THE ROAD and ha ha, wow, that still lives on in some dark untouchable place inside of my soul. It’s like a tumor they can’t excise. Wonderful book, but that one hurts.

I talk about this in the acknowledgments of the book, but I had a really hard time… coming to the page on this initially. I was set to write it right as the pandemic started and when I went to access this story, all that met me on the screen was a howling void. This wasn’t writer’s block in the traditional way — it wasn’t just noodling over a story problem or a lack of confidence. It was like reaching for the milk in the fridge and finding someone already drank all of it. You remember how during the pandemic sometimes something would simply be not available? Toilet paper, for instance? It was like that. I went to the Story Store and the shelves were fucking empty, oh well, go home.

I don’t know that this was depression or anxiety, precisely, either? It was a kind of creative nothingness. Later I would realize that it was like breaking a bone. We were all broken and busted, and some people were able to soldier on and use that time creatively, and some of us were not. My creative leg was broken and I needed rest, and when that rest was over, I couldn’t sprint, but had to hobble about until everything fully healed.

When it did, and I set to writing this book, I realized that my experiences with the pandemic needed to be a part of it — a lens through which to see this story. And the most vital resource was, for me, hope. Not necessarily hope in systems or hope in some larger cosmic sense but rather, hope in communities, hope in friends, hope in spaces both small and strange. And it was about joy, too. Finding it. Seizing it. Cultivating it willfully when it would not be found. Joy was like those sourdough starters we were all growing in jars — trying to find simple ways to summon joy and let it grow effervescent in whatever quantity we could manage. Then trying to let that joy feed us without killing it in turn.

(Spoiler: I ended up murdering my sourdough starter on purpose. I grew to resent it. This has nothing to do with joy, and is not a metaphor.)

So, writing Wayward was very much about having characters finding hope and joy in troubled times, and seeking new beginnings after what felt like an ending. And it’s also about… you know, the guilt that can come of that, too, of finding and experiencing joy amid tumult. But hope is a real throughline for the book. I didn’t set out to write a dire, nihilistic story. I don’t have that in me right now.

That’s not to say it’s not a book with some tough stuff going down. It is a science-fiction novel with horror as its heart, and I embrace that. I don’t think you get to have the hope and the joy without the horror in a book like this. I only want you to know that the battle is ongoing. Hope has a chance. In this book and maybe, too, outside this book, too.

Anyway. I’ll let Alex Brown’s review at Tor.com speak to some of this —

“Wayward was written, in fits and starts, during the pandemic, and it’s impossible not to see how the real world bled into the fictional one. Could Wendig have written it without the pandemic? Sure, of course. It would’ve been a great science fiction thriller with lots to say about the human condition. But this version of the story feels tangible and truthful. It doesn’t feel so much predictive like Wanderers did but more like a reckoning or a reconciliation. Like catharsis. Like understanding. It’s not just a story of what could be but of what was and is and is still to come.”

They understand the book better than maybe I even do, or did, and it’s (like their review of Wanderers) one of my favorite reviews of my books ever written. I feel very lucky to have received a review like that. And I feel very lucky that you might have picked up the book or are considering picking it up.

And here of course I note that if you’re able to share this, I’d be happy for it — I’m off Twitter through the new year, at least, and not really sure where my social media home will be besides this very blog going forward, what with Post being a bit boring, and Hive being a bit erm unstable.

If you’re looking to nab a copy of the book, you should check with your local indie bookstore, of course. I also can sign and personalize copies that can be sent to you — just buy from Doylestown Bookshop and let ’em know in the notes of the order. (Or call it in.) Bookshop.org is also a good place to nab. Your local library is also a wonderful place where the books live.

Thanks for reading.

Black Swan says, wake up.


5 responses to “What To Know About Wayward (Dogs, Dolly Parton, Divining the Future, And More)”

  1. Hi, I’m the one who asked about the dog at Nowhere books this past Sunday. I was immensely relieved to find out that the dog is okay in the book. After having to put to sleep 3 dogs within a year and a half, and then 2 this year, I don’t think it would have been easy to read about a dog dying, even a fictional one. We don’t deserve dogs, yet we are lucky enough to have them in our lives.

  2. The pandemic is not over, really. The effects of the vaccines are revealing themselves around the population. The attack of MidJourney on social media is trying to overwhelm real art. It’s doubtful whether this comment will even post due to technological difficulties. I loved both Wanderers and Wayward, and I got them both at our library. I hate ebooks, too. End of annoying rant. Oh, and I adore your sense of humor, Wendig.

    • Thanks! I mean, yeah, no the pandemic is still chugging along, sadly — I just mean, it’s over in the book. (Because it killed most everybody.) And the technological problems afforded to social media and AI should not impact this website. 😀

  3. Ok ok… I don’t REALLY think you predicted the future, but you did a JFC this man took a look at a range of possible outcomes and did a crack job of hitting the outer ring of the bullseye. If I weren’t so self-conscious I definitely would have asked at Doylestown books who the Elon Musk figure in Wayward was going to be.

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