The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not one who tends to pick up YA novels too often, but every once in a while I get a recommendation from a colleague and it sparks my curiosity enough to dip my toe in the waters for a while. It’s interesting, because I know that the YA market is very hot right now among adult readers and especially among librarians and since every single person I know is a librarian, you can see how this sort of thing happens from time to time.
So, the book itself. For me, there were some great bits, some okay bits, and some ‘meh’ bits. I’m not much for the YA romance angle, especially the “girl with a crush on one boy who is liked by another.” There’s a good bit of mystery about the “Waves,” what they are, what they will be, and what the titular “5th Wave” actually is. I also enjoyed the speculation early in the book about what the “Others” actually were and there’s a good bit of tension regarding just how, well, alien they are.
There are multiple points of view throughout the book and they shift around often enough that it was, at times, tricky to keep track of who I was reading. A few times I started in on a chapter and thought it was from one character’s point of view, only to realize that I was wrong a few pages in. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that breaks a narrative for me, but it’s . . . inelegant. I liken it to a transmission that clunks whenever you shift gears. It still works, but you notice it when you’d prefer everything to be smooth. It’s also the kind of thing that would be easy enough to fix; slap a Game of Thrones-style chapter header “Chapter 5: Cassie,” for instance, and you’d clean that right up.
Regardless, overall, I enjoyed the book. I like aliens, I like invasions, I like dystopias, and I like survival; there’s a good amount of each here. I’m less interested in teenage romance and the angst therein, but I recognize that this genre has certain conventions that are quite popular, so I’m not convinced that it’s bad. It’s just not to my taste. Your mileage may vary accordingly.
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I’ve been thinking about the Fermi Paradox lately. Here’s the short version, if you didn’t click the link to do the background reading:
According to this line of thinking, the Earth should have already been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence elsewhere have been spotted, either in our galaxy or the more than 80 billion other galaxies of the observable universe. Hence Fermi’s question, “Where is everybody?
There are a lot of possible answers to this question, some of which are more compelling to me than others. One possibility is that there’s nobody else out there, but that seems unlikely. Current evidence suggests that planets like our own are not rare; odds are good there are enough candidates out there for life.
Although it’s not the most logically compelling argument, I admit to liking the idea that we will be the first ones to the stars and that we’ll be the first to visit other worlds and other species. We haven’t heard from aliens because we’ll be the first to discover them.
A lot of speculation has been made about ancient astronauts visiting our world and guiding our technological development, but I’ve always found this idea somewhat disappointing; it strikes me as something of an insult to suggest that we couldn’t have figured out any of this shit without help from a higher power.
My admittedly flimsy justification for believing that humans might be the first intelligent species to arise in our galaxy comes from the apparent frequency of extinction events; we’ve had more than our fair share and if they’re common enough, they could explain why the clock has been reset on intelligence enough times such that nobody has beat us to the punch. Of course, that line of thinking falls into the same trap as all speculation of this sort does; we cannot assume that the conditions we experienced in our planetary history are common. We need a larger sample size before we can draw any kind of inference.
Anyway, it’s an interest thing to kick around for a while if you don’t have anything more pressing on your mind and you’re able to assess the question of “where are the aliens” in a reasonable, non-conspiratorial manner. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts; I’d love to have a discussion about this.