The 5th Wave
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 480 pages
Juvenile Science Fiction
For a long while now, I’ve been one of these folks who listen and nod when people talk about how alien invasion stories always get it wrong. And most of these critics are quite logical in their arguments — why invade? Why not just bombard us from orbit? Throw rocks, even? The build-up of tension in stories like Independence Day and V are just there for dramatic effect. Anyone who has the technology to travel light-years to get to Earth (and really, why come here again?) surely has better methods of wiping out the indigenous population without any risk to self.
Rick Yancey takes that idea and turns it on its head a bit.
The 5th Wave is — thankfully — not a dystopian future where all of us are living in tents and drinking water from cisterns while conniving to do harm to some other social class or some other mess that we’ve had to endure for so many years now. Instead, it presents an interesting and unique take on the way an extra-terrestrial race would not only invade another planet, but even the method by which they travel.
The story focuses on high school student Cassie Sullivan as she survives through loss of electricity, loss of family, loss of friends, and the breakdown of society as she knows it. And while there is that “civilization decays” trope that is so familiar to readers of this type of story, here it’s presented with a logical progression. The “first wave” — an electromagnetic pulse — destroys all power, which takes civilization back a few years, certainly. After that, dropping objects from orbit to create earthquakes and tidal waves, wiping out most of the major coastal cities. The “third wave” is a plague carried by indigenous birds.
It’s all a very well planned invasion, and it plays to the strengths of any would-be alien life with the intelligence enough to travel light years.
The other protagonist in the story, who’s point-of-view isn’t introduced until later, is high school jock Ben Parish, the object of Cassie’s secret affections, but also one of the kids taken to a secret training camp to learn how to fight the enemy. Only not everything is as it seems, and Ben finds himself having to make some very tough choices as he’s forced to confront the fact that not everyone tells the truth all the time.
Yancey’s prose is easy to read, although the first time the POV switches from Cassie to Ben is rather abrupt and caused me some confusion for a moment. The story flows from scene to scene with no glaringly terrible errors in logic or planning. It’s a carefully crafted book that leads in a nicely logical point-to-point progression. The introduction of “the enemy”, in the various forms they take, is both unique and imaginative, and it also plays into the question of how aliens would survive long enough to make the trip to get here.
Along the way, events have Cassie and Ben each questioning just what it means to be human. Trust in others falls by the wayside rather quickly, as there’s no way to tell who’s on which side. Like Captain America said, “If they’re shooting at us, they’re the bad guys.” But if everyone’s shooting at everyone else, how do you know who’s fighting to defend humanity from the Others?
The story picks up in The Infinite Sea, so don’t expect a neat and tidy wrap-up to this book, although it does end with a certain amount of resolution of the main threads of the plot while moving forward to set up the next set of threads for the second book.
While on the surface, The 5th Wave might seem like another Divergent or The Hunger Games, it’s not. And that’s a good thing.
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