22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2005
A mysterious planet of approximately the same mass as Earth appears from hyperspace within the orbit of our moon, tearing the satellite to pieces and inflicting tremendous damage on our planet through vastly increased tidal forces. When author Fritz Leiber keeps his focus on that basic premise, detailing the effects of the Wanderer's appearance and mankind's efforts to cope with it, this novel really flies, particularly in an early sequence wherein an astronaut barely escapes the shattering of the Moon and finds himself in orbit around the new planet. This is real action-packed sense-of-wonder science fiction from a grand master.
However, other factors act against the novel's success. There are far too many characters and many of them are handled in such sketchy fashion that not even Leiber seems interested in them. For example, the high jacking of an ocean-liner, which could have generated some genuine excitement, is instead summarized in flat declarative sentences in a couple of paragraphs. In addition, I don't want to give away the ultimate nature and purpose of the Wanderer, so suffice it to say that by the time one of our heroes became involved in a love affair with a green-furred cat woman from outer space, certain plot elements had turned decisively away from the hard-SF depiction of global tragedy that I had begun to enjoy. Finally, the dialogue and relationships among the characters has become terribly dated. I know that it's not fair to expect an author to anticipate what will make his story seem stale forty years later; nevertheless, it does remain a distraction and an obstacle to complete enjoyment.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2006
Without mentioning the basic story line, because it is covered by other reviews, I'll just hit on a few random points that struck me.
There are perhaps two dozen characters in the book, scattered all over the world (the "multiple viewpoint" approach). Many of them in the course of their conversations mention the names of real-world science-fiction authors (Heinlein, Wells, Clarke, Burroughs, etc.) as if those sci-fi authors are universally regarded as authoritative celebrities and are guiding philosophers for humanity. Why did Leiber do that? Was he intentionally sucking up to his peers? Trying to elevate his field? That was a poor device to include in a work of fiction. The effect is to remind the reader, "Don't forget, you are reading a science-fiction novel right now."
When the feline alien gave her big speech about the need to rebel from authority in order to live life to its fullest, it was as if Leiber were reaffirming (sucking up) to the youth of the 60's and telling them they are correct in their rebellious urges. But at the same time, he depicted the human teenagers in the book as wild, drunken savages bent on destruction and menacing society. Mixed message? There is also a parallel between the second visiting planet (described as the "police") and the human police on Earth who are engaged in battle with the rioting teens.
I didn't like the extreme coincidence that the one person the cat-alien snagged from the Earth's surface was also the friend and colleague of the astronaut who was pulled from the moon, and both happened to be romantic interests of the female protagonist who was carrying the vital spacegun to the Earth authorities. I hate it when authors get lazy with coincidences like that.
Leiber's depiction of the "weed brothers" was extremely shallow and comical. First time I've heard a character say "Daddy-O." He certainly treated the pot-smokers in disparaging terms, but later in the book when Cat Alien was giving her big speech, he seemed to glamorize (suck up to) the drug culture of the day when he had her explain, "We want to range through *mind* more thoroughly -- that crumpled rainbow plane inside our skulls."
"Bad Future Prediction" Department: "Not for the first time Richard reflected that this age's vaunted 'communications industry' had chiefly provided people and nations with the means of frightening to death and simultaneously boring to extinction themselves and each other." Heh heh. Nice try, Fritz. That sounded like the guy who predicted the telephone would never be useful.
The book could have certainly used another chapter, an Epilogue, to discuss the Earth's healing efforts afterward and the newly acquired wisdom that was gained after the crisis had passed. An "epic" of this size should have included that. As it was, the book just stopped as soon as the visiting planets vamoosed.
All in all, a fine disaster sci-fi story, with a great premise (cookie monster gobbles up our moon), adequate commentary on human reactions to it, and wide-ranging action.
4 stars if compared to only science fiction; 3 stars if considered as just fiction.
29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2002
This review deals only with the quality of this edition, not with the story as such. It appears this edition was produced by an optical scan of an earlier edition, with no evidence that the result was proofread. There are about four 'typos' per page, enough to distract from the story. Some are easy to puzzle out ('fight' instead of 'right'); others less so.
I'll be looking at all my future purchases carefully to make sure they are not e-reads editions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Lucifer's Hammer sort of set me up for disappointment with this novel. Both novels flip back and forth between a large cast of characters before and after a disaster that comes from the heavens. Both depict that destruction in full immersion 3-D, Dolby Digital IMAX glory. Both are pretty rigorous in their science at the beginning though this novel, due to its plot twists, ends up in space opera territory. Still, a story where the moon gets chewed up, millions die from tidal waves, and civilization starts to fray should be more entertaining than it turns out to be.
The characters are colorful enough, all met on the eve of a lunar eclipse. They include a group of "saucer students", an American astronaut on a lunar base, a man sailing solo across the Atlantic, a has-been actor on a mission to bomb the Presidential Palace of Nicaragua, a sex-crazed couple in New York out to compose a musical, a couple of poets in the UK, a would-be treasure hunter off the seas of Vietnam, a captain ferrying fascists on an atomic-powered liner en route to a coup in Brazil, a science fiction fan who falls in with a dying millionaire, and a German scientist who absolutely will not accept any evidence of the apocalypse apart from his own instruments. The Black Dahlia killer just may put in an appearance too. They are all interesting, colorful, their segments generally at the right length.
The plot? After a lunar eclipse, another big object appears in the sky, the moon starts to get ripped apart, and massive tidal devastation - along with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes - is caused by that object. The first hundred pages mysteriously dragged for me, though. I think less ominous foreshadowing and anarchy and strife - at least on stage - than in the longer Lucifer's Hammer explains my dissatisfaction.
However, the latter part of the novel introduces a new and surprising element very much in keeping with some of Leiber's short fiction which sides with the dangerous and eccentric over an enforced safe, sane order of things. Aliens, cats, E. E. "Doc" Smith, and interspecies attraction all make an appearance too.
Read it for the characters and that last third and not for disaster porn.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
What a letdown. Seriously. The little Penguin Books penguin on the spine of this book should be covered with a black tape.
And I like Fritz Leiber. His 1954 time travel short novel Big Time is on my "to read again" list.
Bad day at the office? Happens to even the best? Perhaps. But the Wanderer, penguin collection or not, has its share of giving SF its bad name. Unbelievable coincidences. Underdeveloped characters. Noone to root for or care for. Cat aliens (seriously). Intergalactic, interspecies sex (no, I am not making this up).
The story: A planet (the Wanderer) comes out of hyperspace and starts eating up our moon. Parallel stories of earthlings' reactions follow. Now, the stories don't really interact between them, so one can actually skip the most laughable ones for the most interesting ones. It is a bit like reading Game of Thrones and turning pages impatiently for the stuff with the Dwarf to appear. So, a quick guide to these subplots:
Wolf Loner, sailor who crosses the Atlantic solo. SKIP
Prince Charles, high jacked atomic submarine. SKIP
Jake Lesher, Sally Harris, wannabe actors. READ
Don Walker, Nicaraguan rebel. SKIP
Dai Davies, Welsh drunkard, poet. SKIP
Richard Hillary, English writer. SKIP
Don Merriam, US astronaut on the moon. READ
Barbara Katz and the dying millionaire. READ
Paul Hagbolt, Margot and the saucer students. READ
Bagon Bung, Vietnamese treasure hunter. SKIP
Asa Holocomb, eclipse lover. SKIP
General Spike Stevens (interesting way to die though). SKIP
Arab Jones and co, high on weed. DON'T EVEN TOUCH
Fritz Scher, German scientist. SKIP
The above guide will shave off around 150 pages to anyone determined enough to read the Wanderer. However, I must point out that even the READ parts are not really Dwarf Stuff, they are just bearable enough and some of them push the plot forward.
I am mad at Fritz Leiber for making me write an ugly review. The writer of Big Time and Destiny Times Three should have thought of his fans and his legacy before writing something like the Wanderer. 1 star.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
This is a great..no, a FANTASTIC story, with a deep philosophical issue behind its cosmic disaster theme: the conflict between any society's quest for perfection, and the individual's need to do things..differently.
The book is a tad long; way too many characters are introduced, and too much time is spent on the effects on Earth by the Wanderer. Some editing, and this would have earned 5 stars.
Storywise, it IS 5 stars.
By the way, check out his ghost novel Our Lady of Darkness. More great stuff
on March 5, 2015
I’ve read my fair share of old science fiction. (By old here, I generally mean things written before 1980.) I acknowledge this line is relatively arbitrary, but so am I. Some old sf gets dated pretty quickly, and feels foreign and a little weird. The Cosmic Computer comes to mind. Some old sf holds together pretty well, remaining both entertaining and illuminating its age well–The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for instance. And then there are sf books that age badly–they don’t comment on their own era except by accident and their storytelling style stales. Just putting this out there.
Fritz Leiber’s The Wanderer disappoints in far more ways than it pleases. It’s got a killer hook — what if a hyperspace-traveling planet showed up on our doorstep, closer to the moon than we are? Chaos would rule on the Earth, where tidal forces would go bonkers, earthquakes would wrack the land, and people would die in droves. The Wanderer uses multiple plots to follow the experience of people all over the Earth over the course of the first three days after the mysterious planet shows up next to ours. Awesome premise, terrible execution. I don’t know how this book won the Hugo.
A few thoughts:
- As an end-of-the-world tale, The Kraken Wakes is far better, using many of the same tropes a decade earlier and doing a better job of it.
- The casual misogyny famously part of the SF boys’ club is on a rampage in this book, with women being either flighty or harlots, but always being condescended to. Despite the book’s setting in the future, Leiber fails to imagine any change in cultural norms about, say, race or gender.
- The cat person is amusing, but petulant and childish too. Oh, and it’s the only representative we have of the alien race. It was pretty hard to distinguish the character’s flaws from Leiber’s sense of how women act.
- The people in this novel have sex at the strangest times. And often it’s in the vein of women who don’t want to have sex being convinced by an eager man.
- All the casual misogyny and racism aside, the book is boring. It’s too long for the tale it tells, and several of the storylines don’t change or grow at all.
Spoiler alert: There is one aspect of this particular tale that deserves a bit more discussion — it turns out that the traveling planet is part of a huge coalition of space entities that have a set of rules about what you can and can’t do as an interstellar space faring race. The people on the Wanderer don’t like the rules, so they’re on the run from the agency. I’m not sure if Leiber was criticizing a rising nanny state idea (it feels like he was), but the society they’re running from reminds me a lot of The Culture from Iain F. Banks novels, in a good way.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
I guess I am not a fan of Fritz Leiber's writing. I first tried reading "The Big Time", but could not finish it (only made it a third of the way through the book). Now, I find a similar response to this book. With "The Big Time", it was just a bizarre story with which I could not connect. The thing with "The Wanderer" is that *this is EXACTLY the kind of story I normally love*. But, I couldn't even finish this story. I read dutifully to the halfway mark, then I found myself skipping sections, till finally I thought "what's the point?". To summarize my problems with this story would be to say that I just didn't give a whit about anything or anyone in the story. This condition is created, amoung other reasons, by the constant jumping between up to 15 different scenarios. I assume his intent is to show us how the event impacts people all over the world. But I found that I couldn't have cared less about ~13 of the scenarios. The ones I did care about were those where he unfolded the secrets of the aliens. But, even that threadline could not hold my interest. I also kind of lost it when he first presents the aliens. I don't want to give anything away to someone intending to read the story, but I've had my fill of these sorts of aliens. I tried to read this, I really did. When I had problems, I put the book aside and came back to it later, reading nothing else inbetween. I did this multiple times over the course of 6 weeks, before finally calling it quits. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just me, and my current frame of mind, that was making the story so difficult. It wasn't. Life is too short to waste on a book you're not connecting with. Clearly, some people are connecting with this story. Just didn't work for me.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2000
This book has some good moments, but they are scattered around haphazardly in a seemingly random jumbling of events.
The arrival of the Wanderer, a planet-sized spaceship, wreaks havoc with the Earth - tides, earthquakes, etc. - and the book covers a range of stories of people all over the Earth affected by the Wanderer. While I usually don't mind several unrelated stories occuring simultaneously, several of the storylines in this book seem pointless. He tries to do too much with too few pages, and the result is that you don't care about most of the characters. Caring about the characters is of utmost importance in a disaster book (or movie), or you don't care if the people live or die. This can be alleviated (for me, at least) if there is some interesting scientific explanations of what is occuring, but there is little of that in this book.
This could have been an interesting story, and in fact the last 50 pages or so are reasonably good. It doesn't make up for the first 250, though.
on August 21, 2014
Fritz Leiber is known for Fantasy, both Swords and Sorcery and Urban Fantasy (a genre he practically invented), but The Wanderer is a mixture of disaster/apocalypse and first contact novel. It is in fact surprisingly 'hard' as far as the science fiction elements are concerned. A new planet, the Wanderer, appears suddenly next to the moon, its gravity causing earthquakes and huge tides which cause considerable destruction on Earth. Leiber follows several groups of people through the story including two who have direct contact with the inhabitants of the Wanderer.
It is an interesting novel but it is something of a mixed bag. The disaster scenes are well done, although I think Leiber should have focused on fewer groups stories. There are some characters introduced early in the novel, that seldom get mentioned afterwards, he maybe should have cut those plot threads out altogether. The concept of the aliens was interesting but the inter-species romance was cringe inducing and easily the weakest part of the book. A good but not great book, but interesting nonetheless just for Leiber's take on science fiction.