The coronavirus pandemic has totally upended the world as we know it. Movie theaters have closed their doors, film and television productions are indefinitely delayed, and everyone is partaking in "social distancing" by staying home. In these trying times, we can focus on the negative aspects or come together as a species in order to save our collective hide.
To get a better handle on the current situation in which we find ourselves, SYFY WIRE turned to Chuck Wendig, the prolific writer behind 2019's Wanderers. Published last summer, the novel is about a strange affliction that causes hordes of people to sleepwalk across America. Violence, terror, and the collapse of society follow, but are we headed in that direction with the spread of COVID-19?
"I think what’s also useful to see — and this is something that Wanderers works hard to put out there — is that you also see a lot of community-building, and love, and caring," Wendig tells us. "In zombie movies, we’re often made to understand that the zombies are themselves kind of an environmental problem, and the 'true monster' is other people. And yet, in reality we see time and time again that people are out there to help each other. That, and hoard toilet paper, apparently. Are people pooping a lot in a crisis? Maybe they are."
In other words, a bloodthirsty, alt-right insurgency isn't springing up around all the panic and threatening to overthrow the government and kill sick people as we see in Wanderers. Now that we're on the subject, though, Wendig's optimistic view of humanity pretty much hits a roadblock when it comes to the topic of how our government is handling the situation.
"Firing the pandemic response team in 2018, gutting the CDC, putting forward anti-science initiatives, and then further weakening the populace and dinging away at our healthcare system while simultaneously slicing away at the social safety net? It’s like girdling a tree and then acting surprised that it died," he says. "I’ve seen a lot of hopeful leadership at the state and local level — though not every state and local level, mind you, which is part of the problem with having rudderless federal leadership."
While the fallout from the coronavirus crisis is unprecedented, we must remember that there have been plenty of health scares in the past. The only difference is they didn't drive us into self-quarantine. According to Wendig, it was only a matter of time until a really nasty illness came along.
"We’ve seen plenty of emergent threats just in my lifetime alone, whether we’re talking HIV, H1N1, SARS, MERS, Ebola, and so forth," he explains. "The models always suggest the possibility of a pandemic, and so it’s not really me foreseeing it, but rather, basic scientific sense that one of these was coming around the bend at some point."
Speaking of models predicting future pandemics, the author is a little shocked at how similar his novel — or prophetic text, if you prefer — is to real-world events.
"It’s definitely getting a little weird," Wendig continues. "There are a lot of little touchstones that the book introduced that we’re watching play out in the news — all the way down to an artificial intelligence predicting it before people did. In my book, Black Swan, and in reality, Blue Dot. Which, eek, even the names are uncomfortably close to one another."
As the situation develops, Wendig admits that he's not opposed to revisiting the pandemic/epidemic sub-genre in a future project that would examine "the after-effects" of a global outbreak. Like we said earlier, not everything needs to be sullen about where we currently find ourselves.
If you're feeling a bit blue or helpless, Chuck has some tips for maintaining your personal well-being:
"Stay aware of the news, but don’t drown in it. Look away from social media. Exercise. Meditate. Go look at birds. Birds don’t give a sh**. They’re out there having a great time, spring has sprung, they’re singing and tootling and flitting about. Their version of tweeting is probably healthier than ours."
And hey, why not check out our Wanderers interview with Mr. Wendig while you're at it?
Matthew Jackson and Caitlin Busch contributed to this story.