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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Book Name: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher(s): Putnam
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Science Fiction / Dystopia
Release Date: May 7, 2013

The 5th Wave is the first in an ongoing trilogy by Rick Yancey. The second book, The Infinite Sea came out in September, and the third book is expected in 2015. It combines the recent trend toward young adult apocalypse and dystopian fiction with a good, old-fashioned alien invasion. This makes me happy.

Alien invasions have gone out of style since the great pulp sci-fi of the first half of the twentieth century. We’ve had a few fun movies of course, but the trend has been towards space exploration by humans, rather than aliens coming to Earth. I love books and movies about human innovation and exploration, but sometimes we all need a good battle for the Earth to remind us how precious our planet truly is.

The 5th Wave starts with a tight first-person perspective. Cassie Sullivan is a survivor in a world decimated by an alien invasion that comes in waves. She has already survived the first four waves, and thinks she may be the only human left on Earth. She’s sure a fifth wave is coming, but doesn’t know what it will look like. In the aftermath of an EMP that took out all electronics, metal bars that dropped from the sky and destroyed every major city, a modified Ebola virus that killed about seven billion people, and the discovery that many of the survivors were hosts to aliens and dedicated to killing everyone remaining, Cassie doubts she’ll remain alive much longer. She’s determined to find her little brother Sammy before she dies – he was taken away by a group of soldiers who may or may not have been aliens, and she wants him back.

She makes it pretty far before a Silencer finds and shoots her. Silencers look and act exactly like humans, but their only goal is to wipe out humanity. Cassie knows that she’s dead, so she screams her defiance at the thing, determined to go out fighting.

The next thing she knows she’s been rescued by a boy called Evan Williams, who takes care of her in his empty house while she recovers from her wound. Cassie doesn’t know if she trusts him, but when he offers to help her find Sammy she can’t refuse. They set out toward the military base where he and others have been taken, planning to break in and get him out.

I like Cassie. She’s a wonderful portrait of a teenager who simply refuses to quit. She’s not skilled with weapons, she hates violence, she panics every time she has to use a gun, but she’s very smart, and good at not dying. Her particular brand of determination is based entirely on her desire to protect her little brother and stick it to the aliens who destroyed her planet and her family. She has no grand illusions about driving the aliens away from Earth; she just doesn’t want to die. She hangs on by the skin of her teeth throughout most of the novel.

Her grim certainty that humanity is on its way out gives the book a sense of desperation that might have been lacking otherwise. Cassie wishes things were different, sure, but she’s realistic. Life as she knows it is over and done with and nothing will bring it back. The remnants of humanity are scattered, weak, and dying. The fifth wave will come soon and wipe them out. The aliens have proven themselves efficient if nothing else.

The perspective shifts to the view of Ben Parish, Cassie’s erstwhile crush and a soldier-in-training at the same military base Cassie plans to infiltrate. He’s being trained to fight back, to take out the Silencers with stolen alien technology, and he’s becoming very good at it. When a girl named Ringer joins his squad with reservations as to the veracity of what they’ve been told, Ben must reexamine his role in the new world. Who is the enemy, really?

Cassie and Ben both stress that the most frightening thing about the aliens is that they can be anyone. They inhabit human bodies and control them perfectly, so that they appear human themselves – right up until the moment they kill you. This means that no one is trustworthy. Anyone is potentially an enemy. There is no way to tell for sure. It’s safest to shoot anyone you meet on sight, but is that doing the aliens’ job for them?

Inevitably Cassie and Ben’s despairing determination cause them to cross paths in their mutual fight for revenge and survival. For the first time a glimmer of hope appears; even if they can’t save the world perhaps they can save Sammy and themselves. Helped along by Ben’s squad and Cassie’s tentative alliance with Evan, they plan an escape.

I was impressed with The 5th Wave. The writing style is accessible and easy to read, but the subject matter is as dark as it gets. It deals with issues of trust in a world where trust is impossible, family when family no longer exists, and loss on a scale so mind-bogglingly huge that it is impossible to imagine. It’s an apocalypse in the true sense of the word. Cassie is a self-aware narrator, and mentions at one point that apocalypse stories before the invasion always featured a tough group of survivors soldiering through the wasteland to repair the Earth, or solve the problem, or heal the plague that wiped them out. Her apocalypse isn’t like that. There are so few survivors of the first four waves that they’re a joke, and she fully expects the fifth wave to wipe them out completely.

And when the fifth wave does come, it is as horrifying as anything she could have imagined.


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