ver since HG Wells swept away England, scorching and red-weeding it to ruination by advancing Martian tripods, we’ve loved our alien invasion stories. And generally we win – what’s the point of the story unless we win? We’re plucky and ingenious, especially with our backs to the wall.
In Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, that pretty much goes out the door. We’re losing, on our way to extinction. No alien race, as the author points out, is going to come down and dogfight with F-16s in some sort of even fight. With “intellects vast, cool, and unsympathetic” (Wells again), they will already have it worked out, down to the final decimal point.
First there is that alien mothership that appears in high orbit, floating, observing, silent. There was conjecture about what this might mean. Then the first wave: lights out! The power grid goes down and never comes up. Then the second wave (literally), global tsunamis triggered by an orbital bomb. The third is the spreading of an Ebola-like virus, tailored into airborne horror by our overhead guests. And the, finally, the fourth wave – humans altered in their wombs two decades ago, ones who look like us, talk like us, but are alien. Those piddling few survivors, stagging in search of the basic requirements of life, are being ambushed by sleeper-agents, monitored by drones, harried into their graves.
What chance does anyone have?
Our specific anyone in this case is Cassie, a young girl who’s been through the wringer. She’s plodding through the ruins of what was once our world, alone, distrustful, fresh from killing someone who might (or might not have been) human. She has a lot on her mind, given the things we’re seeing in flashbacks, strange events that make no sense (why did those Army guys kidnap her little brother?). And worse, something is stalking her.
I really liked this one. Picked it up in a used bookstore, not used, really; just overstock I suppose. Paid nearly full price for it but I was intrigued, and that’s generally all it takes. And it was worth it. Cassie is an enjoyable narrator, as full of doubts as Horatio Hornblower yet gutsy when she needs to be. Yeah, I just settled in and enjoyed it.
Still, I did have a problem with it. After all the clinical effort to explain how one-sided such an invasion would be, how helpless we would be before orbital highground and advance technology, the author let the team down at the end. Suddenly we’re back to the Hollywood he mocked, with people sneaking into a base, stolen uniforms, a foe that can’t seem to hold its prisoners very well and even a mocking, monologging villain. To come that far and then go campy at the end, a shame. Still, overall, I enjoyed the book.
I will mention that the next in line, The Infinite Sea, is coming soon. So, yes, I’ll give it a thumbs up (even with that ending). A fun read!