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July Discussion – The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th WaveThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey was not the most popular read from this group and about half of us either did not read or could not finish.  Whilst it is disappointing, and many of us tried, we acknowledge that although the purpose of bookclub is to extend ourselves and our reading interests sometimes some of us just cannot make it to the end.  Many of the reviewers on blogs are also divided.  “True” science fiction fans have not taken to this book yet it has proven to be very commercially successful.  We wondered if the second book in the sequel would be as popular and if readers will bother with the second instalment.

Although promoted as an alien invasion story (aliens do make an appearance) they basically are there to provide the complication with it then becoming essentially a story about human survival. We discussed what the five waves mean.  We were a little unsure what the five waves actually were but found on the study guide they are listed as: 1ST WAVE: Lights Out, 2ND WAVE: Surfs Up, 3RD WAVE: Pestilence, 4TH WAVE: Silencer and THE 5TH WAVE – the children’s army.  We discussed the different waves and their impact on the population. Some of us felt that the first wave really occurs when the aliens are transposed into the embryos of the dreaming mothers in the prologue so we had some confusion.  It is not entirely clear to us what separates each wave.  We agreed that the prologue was actually very well written and does initially hook the reader.

The overwhelming feeling from the group was disappointment.  Some of us felt that the hype leading up to the release of this novel had given us high expectations and we were really looking forward to this but the novel just did not deliver. Others felt that it was a bit slow and convoluted and at first they were a little confused.  Once the action starts it picks up pace and becomes much more interesting with the children as soldiers.  It was horrifying to imagine that there were five and six years olds treated so brutally in the army and some thought that Yancey had gone overboard with this premise.  Even though we acknowledge that there are child armies in Africa and other parts of the world today we found it hard to suspend disbelief. The question that was not answered for us was why, if the aliens are so powerful, would they go to the trouble of training children when they could simply eliminate the population by other means? We felt that the motivations of the aliens are never fully developed.

One of our biggest issues with the novel is the complicated narrative structure.  The narrative structure of multiple viewpoints is difficult to understand and follow.  We thought it would have been better if the chapters had been marked with headings so that you know who the narrator is in each chapter.  We found ourselves flicking back and forth trying to work out who is the narrator, especially at the beginning of the novel, and it could take several pages to discover the identity of the narrator.  This was a flaw in the writing as the voices are not significantly different from each other to distinguish the focalisation or point of view.   Yancey also jumps at times from first person to third person and this also makes the structure more complicated.  The long passages of flashbacks hold up the flow of the narrative as the action is suspended in these chapters. We were surprised by these flaws as he is an award winning writer and thought with some tighter editing the writing would be improved. We thought that the waves are a fabulous idea and the beginning really sets up a great story but the execution did not quite deliver.  It is clearly set up for a sequel and a movie and some of us felt a little manipulated by the marketing machine and thought it was too slick and formulaic.  Hopefully some things we were unsure of may be resolved in the second or third book.

Another issue that impacted upon the reading experience for the group was the portrayal of the characters.  Some felt that Cassie’s portrayal was a man’s interpretation of how a teenage girl would feel and not a true representation.  This was especially true of the depiction of the love interest.  Some felt it is quite crass and superficial that Cassie is able to transfer her love interest and affection from one (very handsome, strong and adept) male lead to the other so quickly. It was thought it was a stereotypical representation of teenage girls and gender roles.  It was a patronising portrayal of what would motivate a female mind and heart in those circumstances when the character is no doubt mad with grief and fear. Some of us were offended by what we saw as sexist comments, for instance Cassie, “hiding behind the tree like a girl” and felt that Yancey undermines his female character who begins the story as such a strong and courageous person.  Sadly, Cassie loses her courage and gutsiness and her lack of self-preservation when she is swayed by Evan’s “chocolatey” eyes.  We also thought it was too coincidental that the other main male lead, the only other survivor from her area, is Ben Parish, the boy she has had a crush on for years.  The romance aspect is forced and not developed particularly well.

We also did not quite understand the silencer’s motivations.  Yancey has developed a character who is a cold blooded killer who kills a whole family at point blank range, shoots Cassie and leaves her to die, but then comes back to save her.  His change of heart was not entirely convincing that he would discover a “human’ side or conscience, even though Yancey does explain that Evan has been raised as a human child.  The entry at the last scene when the teens go to rescue Cassie’s little brother is also unbelievable.  The section itself was enjoyable to read and action driven but the events are too coincidental and the escape is not realistic. The alien leader comments that the aliens have been watching humans for thousands of years so it seems incredible to believe that a small band of children can so easily gain the upper hand.

We were still unsure about which characters have the alien consciousness and what the colour coding means.  We thought that the children who had the alien consciousness in them as ‘sleepers’ are saved but this does not explain why Zombie and Nugget are saved.  Again, we are hoping that this will be further explained in the sequel.  We also debated the question that if the aliens are disembodied consciousness why do they need human bodies as a host?  That was unclear but it was suggested that perhaps they are, to borrow an idea from Stargate, parasites that cannot exist outside a host.  Some of us felt that the book then did not work as a stand-alone title.

We discussed the notions of humanity presented in the text.  Yancey explores some interesting ideas that the greatest threat to humans are not the aliens but, as Cassie states,

It wasn’t aliens that first made us gear up for war; it was our fellow humans

and from Pogo,

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Ultimately, the message of this novel is that regardless of what happens humanity cannot be destroyed by the aliens and the children learn to band together and form bonds of their own “families” to survive.

One comment that was made was that although this will have great commercial appeal we cannot kid ourselves that this is good literature.  We think that it will appeal to readers who are more focussed on action driven plots and will not be worried about the character flaws or inconsistencies.  Some moments of the action are quite thrilling and there are moments when the pace is really intense. We noted that it was interesting that there are no endorsements on the back from respected authors which we thought was unusual for a Penguin book that is so heavily promoted.  It reminded some of the Cherub series and the type of readers who are attracted to that series will probably enjoy this.

Although we recognise that we should have a mixed “diet” of reading some in the group really dislike alien stories and science fiction so could not appreciate it, some hated it, whilst others thought it was a great idea but the execution fell a little flat.

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