Aliens are not really on my list of favorite literary tropes, and I’ve honestly not read much involving them. I’ve always kind of taken it for granted that they exist in one form or another, but it’s not the kind of thing I daydream about, or worry whether or not the government is keeping the truth under wraps. I agree with Mulder that the truth is out there, but it can stay out there for someone else to find. So the only reason that I picked up Rick Yancey’s book yesterday was because the top review on the back cover was from a guy named Justin Cronin, who is an author that my IT guy at work has been recommending to me for some time (I ordered his book The Passage on Amazon, and am eagerly awaiting delivery next week). I flipped to a random page to see if I dug the writing style, and zoomed in on this line: ‘Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky. That’s how quiet it is.’ I fell in love with the imagery and forked over $10, then stayed up til midnight devouring the first 300 pages, only putting it down to sleep when I realized my comprehension skills had already gone to bed without me.
From a brief vignette that begins the book, the reader already knows the subversive tactic that the aliens are using to begin their invasion, years before this story actually starts, so we’re a step ahead of the characters. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about Yancey’s story-telling style is that while the book is rife with plot twists, his foreshadowing allows you to get there on your own, without trying for any gimmicky GOTCHA! moments.
Aliens are invading Earth. Except, not really. No one has actually seen one, as far as they know, and there’s been no communication or visitation, just a Mothership floating up there in the sky for all to see. For 10 days, the world watches and waits, discusses and ponders and theorizes, parties, takes to the hills, hunkers down. Then, the 1st wave strikes.
We enter the story in the middle of the 4th wave of the alien invasion, in a tent in the middle of the woods, listening to the first person narrative of a girl named Cassie who is wondering whether or not she is the last human being alive on Earth while she snuggles with a teddy bear, and an M16. Cassie’s voice is strong, in turns childish and self-aware, defiant and melancholy. Pretty much exactly how you would think a teenager would feel, alone, with the whole world crashing down around her ears. We quickly witness what is an inescapable turning point for her character development, while being given a glimpse of the terrifying place the aliens have pushed humans to, with horrifying results that you can nonetheless relate to. You feel something along the lines of, well, that was awful…I would have done the same thing.
In what I feel is something akin to a magic trick, Yancey takes us from perspective to perspective, from the past to the present and back again, without leaving you fumbling to remember where and when you are. Through the eyes of those who have already witnessed it, the previous waves of the invasion are leaked to us during the present time frame, allowing a deeper understanding of where the characters are coming from, and what influences their choices. The backstory is full and rich and alive, and in the hands of a lesser author would probably have required another two books to flesh out.
The 1st wave was an EMP strike so potent that around the globe, everything just stopped. Cars crashed, planes fell from the sky, cell phones and electricity were no more. Hundreds of thousands died, and the world struggled to comprehend, to regroup. The 2nd wave was a cleverly designed strike, using the Earth itself to do the dirty work – a giant spike, twice the size of the Empire State building, dropped from the atmosphere to plunge directly between already shifting tectonic plates, causing a ‘natural disaster’ that eliminates billions more. I don’t want to ruin the fun of learning all of the aliens diabolical yet methodical plotting, but I will say this – after essentially herding all the remaining humans together, the 3rd wave strikes and leaves only 1 in 3 humans still standing. The 4th wave will hurt your heart, and by the time you discover what the 5th wave is, you’re already in the middle of it, and wishing you could take up arms and join the rally against this fictitious enemy. Just when you believe that help has arrived, the already learned lesson that you must question everything and trust nothing but your own instincts is driven home ever deeper.
We also get first person narrative accounts from other characters, all of whom will tie together by the end of this 1st book. There’s Ben Parish, Cassie’s former classmate and the unrequited love of her life since 3rd grade. Sammy, Cassie’s five year old brother, the only living family member she has left. Then, there’s Evan Walker. A Silencer, a member of the invading alien force. Except, not really. All of them have had their own separate and individual journeys through this new landscape, and we’re given a birds-eye view from their perspective, as well as in relation to Cassie. We’re introduced to characters that will get their own first person narratives in the 2nd book, The Infinite Sea (also in my Amazon shopping cart), as well. I am especially looking forward to Ringer, a crack-shot girl whose smile was the first thing she lost, who meets Ben, aka Zombie, when they’re assigned to the same squad at Camp Haven.
The story leaves us at a place where we have heroes to root for, fallen to mourn for, and an epic battle waiting on the horizon.
Not only does Yancey write teenagers well (where so many authors try way too hard and completely miss the mark), he writes humans well; men and women, adults and children, all seem natural and real. The action is gripping, the emotions palpable, and the aliens, well, I hope that actual aliens don’t hear about this and get any ideas. Again, I haven’t read or even watched a lot of things in the alien/extraterrestrial genre, so I don’t have a lot of comparative material to work with. Within my limited exposure, though, this is an original and unique conceptualization of the alien horde. Their reasoning for coming to the Earth may be one that you’ve heard before, but the amalgamation of how they are, and the way that they go about their nasty business, is creative and interesting. You find that you can’t help but have a grudging respect for their tactical prowess.
At 457 pages, this book is an actual novel, and not just a tease to lead up to the next in the series. I think that happens much too often anymore, as everyone now seems to think that just plain old writing a good book isn’t enough if they’re not creating a ‘phenomenon’ within the genre, and they end up stinting on one just to pull you into the next.
I could not be happier I picked up this book.