Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: "The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey

The invasion of the world from space comes not with laser beams and strange alien creatures in Rick Yancey’s “The 5th Wave” ($18.99, Putnam), but by much more chilling and seemingly insurmountable means.

When the mothership appears glowing over the Earth, speculation runs wild. Reactions vary anywhere from panic to optimism that the visitors come in peace and will bring valuable knowledge to help us. That optimism fades as soon as the First Wave hits – a massive electromagnetic pulse that knocks out electricity and disables vehicles and communications. With the Second Wave, the alien invaders drive a spike into the ocean floor, setting of tsunamis that wipe out most of the coastlands and concentrate people in the central part of the continent. That’s where the Third Wave can do the most damage – a violent and virulent plague that wipes out the majority of the remaining population. Perhaps most fiendish is the Fourth Wave, humans that have been taken over by the invaders, sowing mistrust and paranoia among those that remain.

But it gets worse. The Fifth Wave is coming, and it’s by far the most sinister.

For teenager Cassie (short for Cassiopeia) Sullivan, the biggest problem in life has been that Ben Parish, the cute boy in school doesn’t know who she is. Now she finds herself living in the woods alone, clutching at her M-16 and her brother’s teddy bear. The brother who is alive, but in danger. The brother that she has made a promise to return to. But it’s a promise that seems almost impossible to keep when you can’t trust anyone and you have an alien assassin, or Silencer, as Cassie has come to call them, stalking you.

“The 5th Wave” is, far and away, one of the best books that I’ve read this year and probably in the last couple of years. I tend to lean more toward fantasy and horror in the speculative genres and shy away from science fiction, but I was hooked from the brief prologue of Yancey’s book, and he pulled me along with the incredible atmospheric storytelling. Yancey manages to create a very palpable feeling of paranoia in the tale, not only for his characters, but for the reader as well. Like Cassie, we don’t know which people to trust and believe or if we can trust or believe any of them. I found myself reaching an initial conclusion about what was going on, and a couple of chapters later, I was wondering if perhaps I had it all wrong. I love that, and Yancey had it going on several fronts.

Though the book is intended for teens, it’s very dark and gritty. It certainly has enough heft, I would think, to please any adult science fiction fan as well. There’s a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” in the bleakness of the tale. There’s perhaps a little of “The Hunger Games” in the unease it builds with the violence committed by and against the young people. And, for me, an obvious comparison is Orson Scott Card’s classic “Ender’s Game,” but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that point. I do think “The 5th Wave” stands up very well against Card’s classic, which is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time.

Yancey also does a good job at keeping us in suspense about the exact nature of the alien invaders. His invasion is an interesting concept in that there is no real contact with the invaders, no direct conflicts, no real way for the people of Earth to fight back. The Others remain shadowy and mysterious, and though by the end, we know something of their nature, there’s still quite a bit more to learn. He also opens up some possibilities among the alien population that are almost as interesting as those of the humans.

There’s not much else I can say and avoid giving away some key plot points that I’d rather readers discover for themselves, so I’ll just say that I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it.

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