Thursday, June 20, 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield.

Cassiopeia Marie Sullivan is one of the last survivors of the human race.

It began with the appearance of a huge green ship in orbit around the Earth. For ten days nothing happened while people speculated, fretted, and wondered why the aliens did not make contact.

The attack came in waves. The first wave was a electromagnetic pulse that knocked out everything - cell phones, electricity, car and airplane engines. Nothing worked. Cars stalled on the roads, planes plummeted to earth. Half a million people died.

The second wave was the creation of an earthquake that caused a massive tsunami. Forty percent of the earth's population lives within sixty miles of a coastline. Three billion people perished.

The third wave was an Ebola -like outbreak, spread by Earth's 300 billion birds.

The fourth wave is the "Silencers" or those who are aliens inhabiting human bodies whose job it is to kill the remaining humans.

Cassie's family had stayed through the first three waves, barricaded in their home. Her father, mother and younger brother, Sammy. But when her mother dies from the Red Tsunami, Cassie's father decides to leave and head for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, over one hundred miles away.

When they arrive at a refugee camp twenty miles from their home, Cassie, Sammy and their father wait to see what happens. Then one day a grey drone appears, followed later by troops who separate the children from older teens and adults. In this way, Cassie loses her brother Sammy. She then witnesses the mass murder of all the adults but manages to escape.

The novel is narrated in several voices; 16 year old Cassie, Sammy, 17 year old Benjamin Parish who is a boy Cassie had a crush on before "The Arrival", and Evan Walker, a mysterious stranger who helps Cassie. The story opens with Cassie's first person narration which describes the waves of the alien invasion and then her hiding in the wilderness. Cassie realizes that she cannot stay hidden forever, that she will eventually be hunted down and that she wants to keep her promise to Sammy to come get him. She decides to make her way to the Wright-Patterson base where she believes Sammy has been taken. However, despite her care in traveling, she is shot and wounded by what suspects is a "Silencer" - an alien who looks like a human who kills those who remain. Seriously wounded, Cassie is surprised that he lets her go. However, further into her journey, she becomes stranded during a snowstorm and is rescued by a stranger.

Meanwhile, although Cassie assumes Ben Parish is dead, he is in fact barely alive, suffering from the Red Plague. Ben narrates his story beginning from his arrival at Wright-Patterson Airbase after the soldiers clean out the tent city next to the base where he has been staying. They save his life and he is encouraged to find the will to fight against the aliens. He learns from the doctor there that the aliens have infected certain people and that these people are now activated into hunters to kill down the remaining humans. All the waves before this were merely to whittle Earth's 4 billion population down to a manageable size for annihilation.

Parish along with many other children are trained to be soldiers and are told that they can help fight back against the invaders. They are tagged with a small capsule that allows them to be tracked and are told that the aliens are inside some humans and that with the use of a special headset they can be detected and will glow green. Those who are not infested will be red. From the very beginning all of their training reinforces this understanding, giving them no reason to question otherwise. Parish who used to be a high school jock and who is deeply depressed over the loss of his sister and his family, is gradually trained into a proficient soldier. His unit includes a young woman named Ringer who is a crack shot, several young boys named Dumbo and Flinstone, a young girl named Teacup and a little boy named Nugget who is in fact, Cassie's brother, Sammy.

** spoiler **
When their training is complete, Parish, who goes by the name, Zombie, along with his unit (excepting Sammy) are sent on a mission into a city. They are given special headsets that glow green indicating a person is infested with an alien and are told to take out anyone who registers as "infested". However, Ringer begins to realize that the situation doesn't make sense and soon figures out that they are being used by the aliens as the 5th Wave - humans who are trained and duped to kill those humans who have survived the previous four waves of attack. Ben and Ringer must decide what to do as Ben knows he needs to return for Nugget whom he promised he would not leave behind.

During the time that Ben and Sammy are at Wright-Patterson Airbase, Cassie awakens to finds herself being cared for at an isolated farmhouse in Ohio. Her caretaker is a handsome young man, Evan Walker, who claims to be the sole survivor of his family. The house is Evan's family's farmhouse, but soon lots of things about Evan just don't add up. Readers will easily figure out who and what Evan is, just as Cassie soon begins to realize the truth of what he is too. Cassie begins to fall for Evan, all the while struggling between attempting to trust him and wanting to kill him for who he is and what she's sure he's done.

Cassie tells him she must go back to get her brother, even if it means her dying in the process. Evan who is in love with her, decides to debrief her on the base so that she will have a reasonable chance of succeeding. How will Cassie sneak into a death camp for humans, that is surrounded by drones and soldiers controlled by advanced alien technology?

Yancey is an adult writer whose previous works have been immensely popular. The 5th Wave which is the first in his new YA series, feels like a mix of original Star Trek (Return to Tomorrow) and the television series V which ran in the 1980's and deals with humans battling malevolent aliens. Of course these storylines - the aliens so advanced they has no physical body and are only a consciousness, and the alien invasion that sees a few good aliens side with their human prey, are quite common in science fiction literature and movies.

The first part of the novel, narrated by Cassie is excellent, capturing the reader's interest with the fascinating backstory of the appearance of the aliens and their gradual assault on Earth. However, the novel slows considerably when Yancey goes into great detail regarding Ben Parish's training at Wright-Patterson. Readers will find this part of the novel slow, but the detail here is important, because the author is setting up the events that lead to the climax of the novel.

All of this is used to create a twist in the plot which leads to a heart-pounding climax and sets the stage for the next novel. It's like a game of chess now; with the aliens in check and the humans awaiting their next move. And the odds are stacked against the humans.

Cassie is the strong-willed, courageous heroine in this novel. Her relationship with Evan is the dominant one is this first novel. It creates a great deal of suspense because the reader knows who Evan is but doesn't yet know his motive for helping Cassie and because Cassie isn't completely certain who he is. The end of the novel sees Cassie meet up with her crush, Ben Parish, who has changed considerably since their high school days, only months ago. He is now a hardened soldier bent on revenge. Yancey has set up the possibility of a love triangle between Ben, Cassie and Evan in the next installment.

My only complaint about this book was when Yancey first switches his narrator. The novel is broken into different sections separated by black title pages. The second section, titled Wonderland initially left me confused until I realized I was reading a different character's narration.

For the most part, I truly enjoyed this novel. Like many recent young adult novels, The 5th Wave is long, a whopping 457 pages. But those pages are filled with a mixture of horror, suspense, romance, grit and action that keeps the reader engaged throughout. We want the humans to win, but the odds seem so against them, that readers will be left desperate to read the next installment in the series.

Book Details:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Toronto: G.P. Putnam's Sons   2013
457 pp.

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