March 23, 2014

Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense. ~Mark Twain

I have, on occasion, been accused of being too logical. This could be thought of as a flaw, I suppose. It certainly feels like one sometimes, especially when I run onto a book that hits all my sweet spots, that by all rights I should love...except for that one glaring plot hole that drives me crazy.

This is, unfortunately, one of those books.

First, the good. The Fifth Wave is the sort of book that when it's good, it is very good. (Unlike Mae West, however, when it's bad, it's definitely not better.) It's a realistic, frightening, slam-bang action story of an alien invasion, with a creepy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-vibe of paranoia and despair. The title refers to the successive "waves" of the invasion (1. An electro-magnetic pulse that wipes out all computers and electronics; 2. A massive alien-triggered tsunami that destroys nearly all of Earth's coastal cities and their populations; 3. An alien-engineered virus, possibly a derivative of Ebola; and 4. So-called Silencers, aliens inhabiting human bodies to hunt down the last survivors), the cumulative result of which is to kill off something like 99% of the human race. Our protagonists, in alternating first-person viewpoints, are teenagers Cassie Sullivan and Ben Parish, the first struggling to survive alone and wondering if she is the last human being on Earth, and the latter being trained (with exceptionally harsh, soul-destroying tactics; I'm sorry, I don't think those should be employed, even in such an extreme situation) along with other survivors, most little more than children, to take the fight to the enemy.

The enemy, as it turns out, the "Others," are beings of pure energy, pure consciousness without bodies, who have made the journey to Earth in their mothership's mainframe. There are hints of an environmental catastrophe of some kind in their past; they have abandoned their physical bodies and their planet, to journey to Earth, wipe out the human cancer inhabiting it, and make it their new home. To that end, around fourteen years before the Waves started, many of them were downloaded into unborn fetuses, to hide in their host's brains until being Awakened, at which time the human personality would be absorbed into the alien. (That was the first crack in the wall, for me; my immediate question was, "Okay, if the mothership wasn't detected by our satellites and/or military until the Waves actually started, how would they even do that? Do the little balls of energy just teleport through the atmosphere or something, and then piggyback on the brains of birds until they locate a pregnant woman?")

Cassie and Ben's separate stories slowly come together; she is bound and determined to find her brother, Sammy, who is in Ben Parish's squad. Along the way, she becomes entangled with an alien, a Silencer, who can't kill her because he is supposedly in love with her; this Silencer, Evan Walker, provides the first explanation as to who the Others really are. Meanwhile, Evan and his squad learn they have been deceived; they are being trained to kill the last humans, under the guise of killing Others (hence the 5th Wave and the rampant paranoia; the Others are using humans to kill each other off). The last part of the book is a no-holds-barred, extended action sequence, as Cassie, Ben and Evan team up to rescue Sammy and some others from the training/prison camp where they are being held.

All well and good, for the most part. The characterizations, especially Cassie's, are quite good; she progresses from a frightened girl hiding in the woods to a hardened, badass warrior. (It helps that she knows karate; she's not helpless and doesn't need to be rescued, by any means.) But the last part of the book--Chapter 85, to be exact--also drops the bombshell that I'm sure the author meant to be a Big Reveal, but which only served to make me come near to throwing the book against the wall.

To wit:

"Do you know why we will win this war?" Vosch asks us after we're locked inside. "Why we cannot lose? Because we know how you think. We've been watching you for six thousand years. When the pyramids rose in the Egyptian desert, we were watching you. When Caesar burned the library at Alexandria, we were watching you. When you crucified that first-century Jewish peasant, we were watching. When Columbus set foot in the New World...when you fought a war to free millions of your fellow humans from bondage...when you learned how to split the atom...when you first ventured beyond your atmosphere...What were we doing?"

Now. Wait. Just. A. Frakking. Minute.

First of all, talk about blowing your established timeline all to hell. Did the Others come six thousand years ago, eighteen years ago, or six months ago? How did they get here? Did they use the mothership, or not? It's certainly implied in Chapter 85 that the mothership didn't arrive until recently. If the mothership brought a few of them six thousand years ago, to "observe," why in the hell didn't they conquer Earth way back then? It sure wouldn't have taken near as much effort to blast the pyramids to dust as to destroy a technologically advanced civilization. Also, for such a supposedly advanced group of aliens, it shouldn't have taken six thousand years to learn how humans think, especially if they've been downloading themselves into human brains for all that time. If they've been without bodies for tens of thousands of years, and the mothership existed and was fully "staffed" with little balls of pure consciousness in its mainframe way back then, why wait? Did they have to make a few trips back and forth to the Others' home planet, perhaps using centuries of non-lightspeed travel, to download everybody, or something?

Argh. Triple *headdesk.* For me, these three pages--all of Chapter 85--destroys the logic of the entire book. I read it again just now, and I still want to yell and fling the book away from me. I came pretty near to buying this book, and I'm glad I waited to check it out from the library. If I had spent my money and then fallen headfirst into this massive plot/pothole, I would have been furious.

I'm not saying it's not a good book, with the glaring exception of those three pages. It is. I may read the sequel, in the hopes that this plot hole is fixed (but I sure won't buy it). Like Mark Twain said, fiction has to make sense. It's very unfortunate that this book does not.

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