The Fifth Wave
by Rick Yancy
by Rick Yancy
Ever wonder what it would really be like if Earth were invaded by aliens from another planet? I have, and my imaginings always ram somewhere between the aliens from Tom Cruise’s version of War of the Worlds and Will Smith’s Independence Day. Thankfully, Rick Yancy has a much more realistic and riveting imagination.
Cassie is a little freaked out when the mother ship appears over her neighborhood. But, after a week or so nothing happens so, whatever. Then the lights go out and a few people die in accidents and whatnot because there’s no power. After some more time passes and people are used to seeing the ship in the sky the tsunamis come and devastate the planet, but Cassie is in Ohio, so her family is spared. When the plague comes and infects many around her, she starts to feel real terror, but where are the aliens? Where are the aliens indeed?
The novel is a brilliant and perhaps very realistic imagining of what might happen if a superior race chose to invade and claim our planet, besides being an intuitive study of human behavior. The brilliance of the work is the slow terror that develops through the action; instead of a series of explosions, the story focuses on the psychological toll of a slow, stealthy invasion that confuses and divides. How do you fight a war when you can’t see the enemy or you see them but cannot identify them? How do we band together when every “wave” drives us further and further apart? The story is told primarily through the eyes of Cassie, but also alternates between two other main characters, Evan and Ben, both victims in their own right of the alien invasion but in markedly different ways. It is impossible not to become invested in what happens to all three characters, impossible not to plow through the chapters in order to see how the fates of these three might become later entwined. I was riveted to the story, glued to the idea of children being used as a “vanguard and weapon,” Lord of the Flies style, and amused by the homage (we won’t call it a blatant rip off) to the film Full Metal Jacket via the character of Reznick. Even in such a horrifying tale it seems there is room for—indeed there has to be—humor. Perhaps most enthralling for me were the themes that kept me wondering. How do you face death on a daily basis when there is no hope? How long can humanity survive in isolation from one another? We are social creatures after all. And lastly, how might an alien force rid the earth of humans? Maybe Cassie, and our own Earth’s history, has the answer, “rid the humans of their humanity.” This is one novel I would be anxious to read a second installment of, but I’m not sure one is needed. This novel stands as a testament to the genius of Yancy, and I for one, recommend it to anyone who is up for a sophisticated, engaging read unlike any that have come before it.