It seems like everyone’s talking about this Chuck Wendig dude. Everyone but you, that is. And that’s a damn shame because Chuck Wendig is ten shades of great. On one hand, as a guy who’s done self-publishing, traditional publishing, and digital publishing (not to mention scripts and video games), he’s written a ton of stuff so you have plenty of titles to choose from. On the other, where the hell do you even start? Ah, my friend, that’s where I come in. Sit back, relax, and let me introduce you to your new favorite author.
Chuck Wendig writes like a punch to the face. His words are visceral and pungent, his tales discomfiting and nonconforming. There’s a fevered, staccato-like quality to his text which gives a sense of urgency, both for the characters and the reader. He writes characters who reject the norm even when they secretly crave it and rage against the family and friends they need the most, all while remaining imminently relatable and recognizable. Every time it feels like things can’t get any worse, Wendig turns the screw once more. Some writers can write big action sequences that make you feel like you’re part of the chaos and some can craft moments of quiet reflection between characters that make you feel like a fly on the wall. Chuck Wendig is one of those lucky few who can do both.
It’s not schadenfreude that keeps eyes glued to the page but a desire to follow the characters to the ends of the earth. No matter how weird or dark his stories get he never sacrifices a character’s personality for shock value. Stories are built around the characters, not the other way around. Even when the action gets really heavy it’s still all about Mookie Pearl or Miriam Black or Sinjir Rath Velus, how they’ll react or reject, coerce or connive, or beg, borrow, or steal to make it through the end.
I came late to the Wendig party but better late than never. Aftermath was my gateway drug—and the book of his I recommend the most frequently—and it’s been a steep and rapid descent into his oeuvre ever since. If you need some cracking good reads, you’ll have more than enough to pick from here. The short and sweet version is Irregular Creatures for a sampling of his style, Zer0es for his best work to date, and Aftermath or Blackbirds for his most accessible. Or dig a little deeper…
Loners and Losers
Wendig introduces Miriam Black in Blackbirds, and we’re now up to six books released or scheduled (book 4, Thunderbird, is due out February 28th), plus “Interlude: Swallows,” a short story that appeared in the Three Slices anthology. How to describe Miriam…think Faith but instead of being a slayer she has the ability to see how people die. She’s also way angrier. She thinks of her gift as a curse and reacts accordingly. In the first book she fears and hates her powers, especially when a person she unexpectedly cares about gets caught in its crossfire. Miriam is the badass female urban fantasy anti-hero you’ve been waiting for. Too bad the TV show never made it past the greenlight stage. If only AMC would pick up the tab. Pairing Miriam Black with Tulip O’Hare would make a killer Sunday night.
Looking for some updated cyberpunk? Zer0es is right up your alley, then. A gaggle of hackers are kidnapped by a mysterious group and blackmailed into hacking a range of seemingly unrelated companies and people. But once the “Zeroes” figure out how it’s all connected and who—or what—is really running the show, the chances of them making it out alive get slimmer by the day. I loved this book way more than Tor.com’s reviewer, but that’s mostly because I wasn’t put off by some of the more, ahem, hacky elements. I love it when writers turn a trope on its head, and Wendig does that here. Sure, the story’s a bit overstuffed, but the rapidfire pacing, interestingly diverse quintet, and twisting plot kept me hooked. The sequel, Invasive, is available now, too.
Spooks, Mooks, and Kooks
In The Blue Blazes, Mookie Pearl brings the reader into a world where New York City is literally a Hellmouth. The Organization runs all major vice, including magic, and Mookie is one of their best enforcers. Until his rebellious daughter, Nora, kicks up trouble, that is. Corruption infiltrates the mob and as the bodies pile up Mookie and Nora are the only ones who can clean it up. If they don’t get killed by hungry goblins, venomous monsters, and vengeful gods first. For those wanting another hit of that sweet, sweet Dresden-style urban fantasy, this should satisfy. It’s a helluva lot darker and more violent than the Dresden Files, but there’s a familiar brand of gallows humor, plucky and/or two-faced sidekicks, and uncontrollable magic.
Speaking of tweaking tropes, Double Dead tackles three in one go: the post-apocalyptic road trip, vampires, and the zombie apocalypse. Coburn comes out of his vampiric hibernation to find humans overrun by a zombie plague. He hooks up with a group of survivors headed for sunny California and he becomes their muscle in exchange for a constant supply of blood. Coburn is an anti-hero with heavy emphasis on the “anti” part, and while his co-star is a teenage girl named Kayla this book is very far from YA-friendly. It’s gruesome, violent, and profane in terrible, beautiful ways. This is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a nice new zombie to play with, Double Dead (and the novella Bad Blood) are the way to go.
Obviously Aftermath was going to make it on this roundup, and rightfully so. Besides being a rollicking space adventure it’s tapped into something culturally broad enough for even SF dabblers to get on board. The story is set in the period shortly after the Battle of Jakku as the New Republic asserts itself and the vestiges of the Empire begins its eventual mutation into the First Order. There are space pirates, rogue warriors, morally ambiguous assassins, traitorous villains, ace pilots, tech savants, bizarro aliens, and killer robots filling out a sizzling trilogy (the second book is due out in July and the third next year). Don’t buy into the naysayers and trolls. This book drew the ire of haters mostly because two middle aged woman are the main protagonist and antagonist, a boy has a pair of lesbian aunts, and a soldier is also a gay dude. If you like Star Wars, military/space/adventure fiction, or good books in general, you’re welcome. The trilogy continues in Life Debt, and concludes with Empire’s End.
For the Young’uns
Atlanta Burns is a YA/crime novel with fire in its belly, pun definitely intended. Atlanta is no wilting wallflower pining over a cute boy while another opposing cute boy pines over her. Atlanta is already ostracized for taking revenge against a terrible crime that’s committed against her at the opening of the book, but when she gets tangled up in a battle of bullies she has to decide once more whether or not to enact her own vigilante justice. It’s a story that assumes teens can handle some tough talk and hard themes. There’s a lot going on here including bullying, suicide, sexual assault, emotional trauma, and gun violence, but I’d argue it’s not much further afield than, say The Hunger Games or Twilight. In fact, given how deftly it shows Atlanta learning how to navigate the complexities of racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s a better read than either of those books. I don’t believe in coddling teenagers, and while I probably wouldn’t hand it to a conservative 12-year-old I’d certainly offer it up to an older teen with a voracious reading appetite.
No Attention Span? No Problem!
Irregular Creatures is one of my favorite of Wendig’s books. It’s a collection of short genre-y stories that, tonally speaking, fit somewhere in between Neil Gaiman’s The Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. Each tale is a little wacky and a whole lot weird with a spash of Twilight Zone for creepy measure.
I don’t know anything about Hyperion the superhero other than he’s basically Marvel’s knockoff version of Superman, but so far so good with Hyperion #1 (artist Nik Virella, colorist Romulo Fajardo, letterer Joe Caramagna). There’s a lot reminiscent of Blackbirds here—young woman hitchhiking away from her past, male trucker attempts a rescue and gets caught up in her shit, violence and manipulation of gender politics ensure—but with the twist of capes and supervillains.
Your Inner Penmonkey
For those in need of some writing advice, The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience is here. This book is perfect for people needing practical craft and publishing guidance. It steers clear of the sort of unfounded writerly advice like “write what you know” in favor of actual useful advice on how to set up a story arc, establishing and describing characters, and the arduous process of publishing. With tips like “Embrace Your Inner Moonbat” and “Theme and Character: Car Crash or Pubic Braid? You Decide!” it may be a bit hard to take him seriously, but trust me, it is chockablock with vital recommendations. As a writer working on a few novels myself, The Kick-Ass Writer lives at my desk and is practically my writing bible. And don’t forget to check out his blog at terribleminds.com for more great articles on writing and other miscellaneous topics.
This article was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated to include more recent titles.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.