Tony’s review: The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey

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3/5

Cassie Sullivan may be one of the last humans left. The alien attack has wiped out most of humanity in four waves of increasing destruction.

It took me just over four days to read this. I started on Thursday night, and would have gone straight through the night if I didn’t have to get up the next morning. By the time I’d put it down, I was 20% of the way through, thoroughly hooked, and I finished it over the weekend.

It didn’t matter that the first part of the book was all back-story. What grabbed me was how compelling and plausible that back-story was. The aliens weren’t dumb enough to land and start with death-rays and city busters; instead taking out humanity in four swipes from orbit. Score: seven billion to zero.

The book split into two converging stories about 25% way through, which led to some twists that I could see coming a mile away (Although for a page or two, I did wonder if I had one of them pinned down). The second story strand was the brutal boot-camp training of teenage (and younger) soldiers for the fight back against the aliens. Or are they aliens? Trust and the destruction of trust is one of the themes of the book, a call back to fifties sci-fi films where the aliens (ie communists) look just like us.

Short, snappy chapters, tumbling stream of consciousness sentences stripped to the bone – Yancey’s writing style is fantastic, tripping along, ripping away everything but the most essential details. I wish THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy had been this good.

Where Yancey seems to struggle is with his social interactions. Conversations that don’t make much sense to the reader and some convoluted syntax didn’t give me much insight into their relationships. Cassie immediately falls for the first handsome boy she comes across, despite her mistrust of him and his motives, and despite warning herself not too. Although for a pleasant change, there isn’t a love triangle going on between Cassie and the two main male characters in the story.

An excellent book where it comes to action and the end of the world, but it falls off when the characters have to talk to each other.

Writing 101…The End of the World

Lots of people believe the world is going to end, and lots of that can be blamed on good fiction. A good story can instill fear in an entire population. Once upon a time, back when the TV didn’t exist, a nationwide panic was created over a radio program. The public literally believed that Earth had been invaded by an alien population. That is good writing. The end of the world can make for a great topic — just ask the Mayans. We’re still talking about them 2,000 years laterA good story is pretty powerful stuff.

The End of the World as They Know It

 
Writing about a catastrophic, world-ending event can be a heady experience. You can make it thrilling, you can make it sad, you can make it frightening and horrifying. That’s the power of the pen: you can do anything you want. But some writers take even that a little too far. Because you can’t just end a world out of nowhere. You’ve got to lead up to it, a little.
Before you can end your fictional world with some sort of catastrophic event, you have to make me care. You can’t just end an entire world without making it an emotional experience. Should I be glad this world is ending? Maybe it’s a horrible place filled with villains. Should I be sad? Was there a hero or heroine I just can’t help but love, someone who must now die along with all the rest? Should I be frightened and horrified? Maybe your world ends in a way that could make my world end, and maybe that scares me. Let me get to know the world before it ends, and meet some of the people who live on it. Otherwise, I’m going to be yawning over your descriptive passages and rolling my eyes as lifeless body after lifeless body is consumed by lava (or whatever).
To make the end of the world matter, you’ve got to add the human connection. And put some structures or natural wonders on the world while you’re at it. I’m going to feel the loss of a beautiful world more keenly than an ugly one.
And when you finally end the world, or write about your catastrophic event, do itspectacularly. Describe the screams, the smells, the pure horror of the event. After all, the end of the world isn’t something that happens every day.

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This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.

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Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.