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The 5th Wave

August 15, 2016

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is the first book in a YA SF trilogy, followed by The Infinite Sea and The Last Star. I read all three of them last week; it didn’t take long and the first book had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, I wasn’t excited about the nebulous are-they-aliens-or-are-they-us ending that dragged out in the last two books.

The series is YA because the protagonists are young. Only young people are left on earth after the fourth wave. The action seems like it’s SF because it begins between the third and fourth wave of an alien invasion, with a girl named Cassie who says
“time was flowing in reverse. The 1st Wave knocked us back to the eighteenth century. The next two slammed us into the Neolithic.
We were hunter-gatherers again. Nomads. Bottom of the pyramid.
But we weren’t ready to give up hope. Not yet.
There were still enough of us left to fight back.
We couldn’t take them head-on, but we could fight a guerilla war. We could go all asymmetrical on their alien asses. We had enough guns and ammo and even some transport that survived the 1st Wave. Our militaries had been decimated, but there were still functional units on every continent. There were bunkers and caves and underground bases where we could hide for years. You be American, alien invaders, and we’ll be Vietnam.
And the Others go, Yeah, okay, right.”

The 5th wave is made up of human children who are trained to kill, and then told that the other remaining human children who are not wearing a tracking device are aliens. We follow a little group of child soldiers who discover that those without the tracking device are not aliens, and then—for the lengths of two books—watch them fight bloody battles with everyone they meet because they can trust no one.

The children try to stay “human” by remembering how to love each other and not descend completely to survival mode, but the aliens make that harder and harder, escalating the kinds of “tests” these child soldiers undergo until it’s impossible for the reader, let alone the children, to tell who might be human and who might be alien. We never do really get a satisfying answer to who the aliens are and what they want.

The young characters’ attitude towards their lost civilization reveal the author as some kind of uber environmentalist who regards civilization as a blight upon the earth. Here’s one example:
“Really neat that human beings conquered the Earth, invented poetry and mathematics and the combustion engine, discovered that time and space are relative, built machines big and small to ferry us to the moon for some rocks or carry us to McDonald’s for a strawberry-banana smoothie. Very cool we split the atom and bestowed upon the Earth the Internet and smartphones and, of course, the selfie stick.
But the most wonderful thing of all, our highest achievement and the one thing for which I pray we will always be remembered, is stuffing wads of polyester into an anatomically incorrect, cartoonish ideal of one of nature’s most fearsome predators for no other reason than to soothe a child.”

As if the ridiculousness of ending with the selfie stick and this description of a teddy bear aren’t enough, later the author makes his meaning even more plain:
“The debris will settle. Rains will bathe the scorched and barren ground. Rivers will revert to their natural course. Forests and meadows and marsh and grasslands will reclaim what was cut and razed, filled and leveled and buried beneath tons of asphalt and concrete. Animal populations will explode. Wolves will return from the north and herds of bison, thirty million strong, will again darken the plains. It will be as if we never were, paradise reborn, and there is something ancient inside me, buried deep in the memory of my genes, that rejoices.”

So if you want an alien invasion story that is supposed to make you side with the alien but never reveals anything about him, turning your sympathy into twisted environmentalism at best and nihilism at worst, this is the series for you!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2016 4:30 pm

    I tried and failed to make it through the first book of this series. How frustrating that you don’t really find out much about the aliens and their motivations!

  2. August 16, 2016 11:59 am

    Will definitely be skipping these. the plot sounds dreadful.

  3. Jenny permalink
    August 18, 2016 12:35 pm

    Oh boy! Nihilism!

    This doesn’t sound very.. subtle?

  4. August 19, 2016 6:53 am

    What you said about never knowing what the aliens are about, and when you learn the nature of them halfway through the first book, I found a bit of a cop out. There’s a lot of potential in the premise but I stopped after book one and can only admire your persistence reading all three.

    • August 21, 2016 11:58 am

      I kept thinking more was going to be revealed! Really, though, I don’t think the author had worked it out very well in his own mind.

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