Monday, June 27, 2016

The Last Star by Rick Yancey

Note: those who have not read the novel should NOT visit Rick Yancey's website as there is a major spoiler by a fan on his home page.

The Last Star begins with Cassie, her little brother Sam (Nugget), the human-alien Evan Walker, Ben Parish (Zombie), Dumbo and Megan hiding out at Grace’s well stocked house. Cassie furiously confronts Evan telling him she doesn’t understand WHY the aliens killed off the human population using such cruel methods when they could have done it differently. Evan tells her that they could have lived with humans indefinitely, sharing their knowledge and bringing peace and order to the world. He tells her he wanted to do it differently but they wouldn't listen. He tells her that for ten thousand years they have had immortality. “An existence without pain, without hunger, without any physical needs at all. But immortality has a price. Without bodies, we lost the things that come with them. Things like autonomy and benevolence. Compassion.”

Ben Parish (Zombie) tells Cassie he doesn’t buy Evan’s explanations, that Ringer was right, that there is something that doesn’t add up about all this. “Ringer was right Cassie. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. He kidnaps a human body so he can murder all the unkidnapped human bodies. Then one day he decides he’d rather murder his own kind so he can save all the unkidnapped human bodies. And not just murder one or two of his kind…All of them. He wants to destroy his entire civilization, …For a girl. A girl!” Ringer didn’t understand why aliens who don’t have bodies need a planet and why they came for ours.

Ben wants to go with Dumbo to the caverns to find Ringer and Teacup. However both Cassie and Evan think he should wait until Evan blows up the mother ship. Evan tells them he needs to blow up the mother ship because on the spring equinox the ship is set to unleash bombs over the entire world that will destroy every city on Earth to complete the cleansing. This is the last step before the launch of the 5th Wave. Before the bombs are unleashed all the Silencers will be brought on the ship.

Meanwhile Ringer (Marika) who has now been enhanced with the 12th System, a nanotechnology that allows her superhuman abilities is allowed to escape the military base. Razor killed Teacup because he knew that Ringer would never leave her. He wanted her to be free to do what she needs to do. When Vosch does not come after her Ringer goes back because she believes that she needs to kill Evan Walker. Ringer knows that Vosch is human and he tells her that he is necessary to facilitate the radical intervention to save mankind. "...we were doomed to destroy ourselves and our home. The only solution was radical intervention. Destroy the human village in order to save it." Vosch tells Ringer that it wasn't enough to just destroy all of humanity, but that it had to change human nature.

He assigns another woman, Lieutenant Constance Pierce whom Ringer hates to accompany her to find Evan. In a briefing with Vosch and Pierce, Vosch reveals that a reconnaissance flight has discovered that Dumbo, Poundcake, Sullivan, Nugget, Walker and Zombie are holed up in a house about fifteen miles southeast of Urbana. However, two nights ago two people left the house heading towards the caverns. Ringer tells Vosch they are heading to the caverns to look for her. He tells Ringer that she and Pierce will be dropped in ahead of their arrival and that Pierce's job will be to bring back Evan Walker. Vosch wants Walker because his program is no longer functioning and he wants to know why. He tells Ringer once he has Walker she and her friends will be free to go. Ringer knows however that Vosch intends to kill all of them. He gives her a green capsule - a modified bomb similar to the one the child in wheat carried but six times more powerful. She refuses this at first. When Vosch asks Ringer what is the lesson of the child in the wheat, Ringer tells him that it is to kill trust and love in humans. No one can trust anyone, not even a child. "Without trust there's no cooperation. And without cooperation there's no progress. History stops." Vosch states "The answer to the human problem is the death of what makes us human."

In the C-160 Ringer tries to explain what is happening to Pierce who believes she is an alien. "Everything you think is bullshit. Who you think you are, your memories,all of it. Before you were born, they embedded a program in your brain that booted up when you hit puberty...You've been infected with a viral program that literally rewired your brain to 'remember' things that didn't happen. You aren't an alien consciousness here to wipe out humanity and colonize Earth. You're human. Like me. Like Vosch. Like everyone else. " Ringer tells Pierce that if she believes she will return to the mother ship and the 5th Wave will finish off humans she is mistaken. Instead she will be fighting the army she's created until there are no bullets to fight with. Without trust and cooperation, a perpetual Stone Age will be born which mankind will never progress out of because no one will ever trust anyone else. Constance's refusal to believe her leads Ringer to decide she has to kill Pierce and she has to kill Walker too. They are dropped in near a farmhouse and Ringer and Pierce quickly separate. Ringer experiences nausea - her second bout since returning to Vosch and she wonders if there's something wrong with the 12th System. Outside the farm, Ringer meets a priest who seems kindly enough at first. But when Ringer tells the priest she's a Silencer he attacks her. Ringer realizes that Constance was here to neutralize a Silencer. He beats Ringer and is able to penetrate into her mind discovering what happened to her, Razor and Teacup. He also tells her there is another and asks her if she knows of its existence.(This is a reference to her unborn baby.)

Back at the house, with Zombie and Dumbo gone, Cassie's little brother Sam takes an M9 Beretta he has found and hides it in the belt of his pants. Sam decides he will watch over Megan and also Evan. Evan and Cassie make love.

Meanwhile Zombie and Dumbo reach Urbana where Dumbo is shot in the back. Zombie manages to get him to a safe place, pack his wound and then sets off to find the killer. He discovers an old lady living in a boarded up room with cats. He wants to shoot her but it isn't until she attacks him that Zombie realizes he's found the Urbana Silencer. He barely survives the encounter - a cat eating old lady silencer who's been enhanced. Zombie returns to Dumbo and tells him has to leave him but promises to return.  Zombie arrives at the welcome center buildings outside the caverns where he sees a priest. After setting off a grenade, Zombie falls into a pit containing hundreds of decomposing bodies. In the pit someone calls his name and tells him to play dead. The priest peers into the pit and tells him to not be afraid, to climb out not knowing that Constance is also in the pit. She pulls the priest into the hole and blows his brains out. Out of the pit Zombie meets Constance and Ringer. Ringer lies to Zombie about how Teacup died and about who Constance really is, telling him that Constance was in the caves and that the priest began to kill people. Eventually she realized that the priest was a Silencer.

Zombie fills her in on what happened to the squad. Although Zombie is leery of Constance she wins him over by pretending to be vulnerable. They travel into Urbana and find Dumbo who has crawled out of the building Zombie left him. Dumbo dies and Zombie buries him.  Zombie wants to kill Constance but Ringer doesn't allow him even though she knows what Constance is. The three travel back to Grace's house where Constance almost immediately attempts to kill Walker. She grabs Sam when she offers him her hand to shake but takes him hostage. However Constance is killed by Sam who uses the gun hidden in his pants. Ringer wants to kill Evan but Zombie refuses and she shoots him in the thigh.

Since Constance was being tracked, Vosch knows their location and the group finds itself attacked by a Black Hawk helicopter firing hellfire. Zombie, Cassie, Sam, Megan and Evan head to the basement but Evan decides to surrender because he knows Vosch wants him. The helicopter removes Evan while three hundred meters from the house, Squad 19 is waiting to move into the house. However Ringer takes each of the kids who belong to the squad down.

Zombie watches Ringer bury the young kids and asks her what happened to her as she is no longer the person her remembers. She tells him that she is enhanced like Evan, Constance, the priest and the cat lady and that she is also pregnant - which she asks him to keep secret. Zombie brings Ringer into the basement to Cassie, Sam and Megan and tells her that Evan got on the chopper and that Ringer has killed the strike team. Ringer explains to Cassie and Zombie (Ben) what she believes has happened. She tells them that the mother ship is possibly automated and that the aliens may not even be on it and maybe never were. It's also possible that the aliens who sent the ship might even be extinct.

Cassie is not sure she believes what Ringer has told them; that alien probes found earth a few thousand years ago. After observing humans they decided that we are harmful to both ourselves and the planet and they built a mother ship. The mother ship contained bombs, drones and a viral plague. This along with the use of humans infected with a computer program would be used to wipe out ninety-nine point nine percent of Earth's population. Ringer tells her that her Silencer theory - that a computer program was downloaded into fetuses and activated at puberty to make them believe they were aliens is true and was confirmed by Vosch. What Ringer doesn't understand is why Vosch wants Evan Walker whose Silencer program malfunctioned. The next stage will be the unleashing of bombs to destroy all the cities on Earth but before that pods will be sent to pick up the Silencers. Ringer doesn't know if the pods will actually come, but she does believe that all the cities on Earth will be bombed as cities hold the memories of human civilization. A culture without memories is a dead culture.

Cassie and Ben and Ringer must now decide what to do. Cassie believes that they are now at the point where they are likely to die and that their death should be meaningful. They could flee into the wilderness, but they know eventually the 5th Wave will find them. Ringer tells them that the Black Hawk chopper will be returning to pick up the strike team. Cassie wants to hijack the Black Hawk, fly to the military base and rescue Evan Walker. She also notes this will give Ringer the chance to kill Vosch. They work out a plan, taking the uniforms from the dead strike team and their trackers so the Black Hawk will zero in on them. Before they leave, Ben finds Ringer ready to drink antifreeze to cause her to abort Razor's baby, but he refuses to allow this. He tells her he will be there for her. As the chopper returns, Ben, Sam and Megan hide under blankets so the Black Hawk won't detect their body heat and Cassie and Ringer trick their way onto the chopper. They force the pilot, Bob to fly all of them to the Ohio caverns where they leave Ben, Sam and Megan. Bob flies Cassie and Ringer towards the military base so they can be captured as planned. Ringer knows that Vosch will now be aware of the dead strike team and the commandeered chopper. Cassie and Ringer's plan is the only one that seems to offer any hope to mankind. But what will the cost be? And can they succeed in turning the tide in the war against humanity?

Discussion

The Last Star is an exciting finale to the 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey. Like the previous novels in the series it is detailed, lengthy and intense. It presents readers with the fate of all the remaining characters in the novel. In the Last Star, although the cast of characters remaining has dwindled, the main characters are Cassie and Ringer. It is Ringer who learns what is really happening and who understands how the alien program has functioned, but it is Cassie who out of love for her brother Sam, makes the ultimate sacrifice. And that's the main theme of this novel, the mystery of human love and how it is humanity's most redeeming quality. It turns out, love is the one thing the aliens who were observing Earth could not understand.

Ringer's theories about what is really going on are confirmed when Evan is captured and Vosch reveals to him the truth of the alien invasion. He tells Evan that a mechanical owl visited his mother when she was pregnant with him and installed the program into his developing brain and then returned when he went through puberty to give him the 12th System. Vosch also reveals that there are no aliens on board the mother ship nor inside of him. He brags to Evan about the carefully constructed program designed to save Earth.   "It is completely automated, like your old friend here, designed by its makers after centuries of careful study and deliberation and sent to this planet to wean the human population to a sustainable level. And, of course, to keep it there indefinitely by changing human nature itself...A flawless, self-sustaining loop, an immaculate system in which trust and cooperation can never take root." The goal was to change human nature so that it would be indifferent to the suffering others.

However, unexpectedly Evan reveals a fatal flaw in the alien's plan. Evan's Silencer program, installed in him when he was still in utero seems to have failed as he did not complete his mission of killing Cassie when he found her. Vosch captures Evan because he needs to find out the cause of the failure. After running tests on Evan, Vosch realizes that love - Evan's love for Cassie is what overrode his Silencer program. "She may be right: Love may be the singularity, the inexplicable, ungovernable, ineffable mystery, impossible to predict or control, the virus that crashed a program designed by beings next to which we are no more evolved than a cockroach." And so Vosch decides that his answer to Ringer's claim will be to erase what Evan loves so that he will kill. He will remove Evan's human qualities, erase his memories of Cassie and turn him into a Silencer he was meant to be. He will be a human indifferent to the suffering of others.

Later, when Ringer is lying broken after her encounter with Evan who is now a Silencer, Vosch finds her. He tells Ringer he's been on the mother ship and that he agreed to work the program in exchange for having his consciousness preserved aboard the mother ship. He also tells Ringer that these aliens have "saved" other planets besides Earth. Vosch admits that there was no flaw in Evan's programming, that the aliens simply had no understanding of love and therefore could not develop an algorithm to deal with this factor.

When Cassie and Ringer break into the military base, they find the room where memories are downloaded into Wonderland, a program that stores memories and winnows out the weak soldiers in the 5th Wave. They hope to locate Evan by finding his memories which will tell them what happened to him here. But sifting through all the millions of downloaded memories to find Evan's will take too long, so Cassie courageously has all the memories of people downloaded into her mind including those of Evan before Vosch erased him. From his memories she learns that the aliens had no answer for love, no solution for love. She sees what Vosch told Evan: "They thought they could crush it out of us, burn it from our brains, replace love with its opposite - not hate, indifference. They thought they could turn men into sharks." This was a reference to the alien's belief that in order to save humanity they needed to make men like sharks. Studying Earth they discovered rule the ocean because "their complete indifference to everything except feeding, procreation, and defending their territory. The shark does not love. It feels no empathy. It trust nothing. It lives in perfect harmony with its environment because it has no aspirations or desires. And no pity. A shark feels no sorrow, no remorse, hopes for nothing, dreams of nothing, has no illusions about itself or anything beyond itself."

The major symbol of the mystery of love in the novel is Sam's teddy bear, named Bear.  Sam Sullivan's bear is a symbol of the indomitable force that is love. Cassie marvels that of all the things mankind has accomplished, from inventing poetry to designing rockets to take man into space, the "most wonderful thing of all ...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." Sam's bear motivated Cassie to continue to fight after Sam goes missing in the first novel. She hung onto his bear as a sign of hope and her love for her little brother.

In The Last Star, Sam refuses to take back his teddy, Bear, after having given him to Megan. He is a soldier now and done with toys. Megan has renamed him Captain, but Sam tells her his name is Bear and that he can't have a new name like the rest of the squad because he isn't a part of it -an oblique reference to what Bear really stands for. Bear is love and love has no part of a soldier. However, when Sam tries to give Bear to Cassie before she and Ringer leave for the military base, Cassie refuses. She tells him to keep Bear, that he's very important. "So hang on to him, understand? You take care of him and protect him and don't let anybody hurt him. Bear is very important to the grand scheme of things. He's like gravity. Without him, the universe would fall apart." This is Cassie telling her younger brother that love is the most important thing of all because it is what keeps us human and what holds the world together. He needs to remember what love is and how he was loved by their parents, by her.

This is an important message for Sam because he's lost the ability to trust people - exactly what the alien program wants. At the house Sam feels he cannot trust anyone any more. "There's no way to tell who's human anymore. Evan Walker looked human but he wasn't, not inside, not where it matters. Even people like Megan, who are human - maybe- couldn't be trusted, because you can't know what the enemy has done to them. Zombie, Cassie, Dumbo... you can't really trust them, either. They could be just like Evan Walker." Sam has also lost his faith in God. "He used to pray every night, all the time, and the only answer God ever gave was no...You can't trust God, either. Even God is a liar...All the people who died must have prayed too, and God said, No, no, no, seven billion times, seven billion nos, God said no, no, no." But what is the antidote for a lack of trust in others? Unconditional love.

The fates of all the remaining characters are sorted out in The Last Star. Perhaps the most interesting is that of the character Vosch. Vosch turns out to be the facilitator of the entire cleansing of Earth. He tells Evan, "I have been entrusted with the greatest mission in human history: the salvation of our species. Like you, I've known since I was a boy what was coming. Unlike you, I knew the truth." This suggests that Vosch was given a program that would make him the manager of the cleansing. He also reveals his loneliness to Evan and that only a few knew the reality of the invasion. He sees himself as much a victim as Evan is.

Ringer whose real name is Marika is the one character who seems to have grasped the reality of what is happening. The strategy of the alien programing was to wipe out most of humanity and reset it in order to save the planet and humans. Ringer states, " 'Not enough to level what we built. We'll repopulate. We'll rebuild. To save the planet, to save our species, they have to change us.' She touches her chest. 'Here. If the Others can take away trust, they take away cooperation. Take away cooperation, and civilization is impossible.' " Ultimately it was a battle over the heart of humans, but the aliens were at a disadvantage because they couldn't understand the human heart and its ability to love. The proof of the power of love is in the relationship that develops between Ringer and Ben. She reveals that she can't go on but Ben tells her he will carry her.


The Last Star ends hopefully despite the tragic end of one of the main characters. However the reader is left feeling that this was not a senseless loss because it leads to a turn in the war. The Last Star is well written, filled with sequences that are both thrilling and terrifying. It is a study in human nature, what makes us human, and challenges us to define the purpose of our existence in the universe.

Book Details:

The Last Star by Rick Yancey
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons       2016
338 pp.

No comments: