I should have learned by now that openly declaring my skepticism about a book pretty much ensures that it will become one of my absolute favorites. That’s exactly what happened when I was handed The 5th Wave earlier this year. But boy, was I wrong. (And don’t just take my word for it.) So stop reading this post and go get a copy of The 5th Wave right now. I’ll wait…. Anyway, since Rick Yancey’s sci-fi thriller is out today, we caught up with the author so he could answer some of our burning questions. Check out his answers after the jump.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I was a little hesitant to read The 5th Wave because I’m not typically into stories about aliens. How did you manage to write a book about aliens that doesn’t really feel like it’s a book about aliens?
RICK YANCEY: Because it isn’t! It’s about us after a devastating, species-threatening event. I admit things got a little schizophrenic while I wrote this book. One minute I’m Cassie shivering in a tent, alone in the woods. The next I’m an alien thousands of years more advanced than us, plotting our extermination. The 5th Wave is sci-fi, but I tried very hard to ground the story in very human terms and in those universal themes that transcend genre. How do we define ourselves? What, exactly, does it mean to be human? What remains after everything we trust, everything we believe in and rely upon, has been stripped away?
Where did you come up with the idea for The 5th Wave?
I’ve loved sci-fi and speculative fiction since I was a kid. It was inevitable I’d try my hand at it at some point. Late one night my wife and I were talking, and I asked her to tell me her greatest fear. She didn’t hesitate: “Being abducted by aliens.” And I said, “Really? That isn’t even in my top 50.” She explained: “Not only would the experience be terrifying, but afterwards no one would believe you!” You would be, in other words, totally isolated, cut off from help during the event and after. That conversation sank deep into the well. Years later, I ran across an interview with the physicist Stephen Hawking, who remarked that alien contact should not be something we look forward to. If they’re out there, he said, we should hope they never find us. It hit me that most invasion stories don’t even come close to what we might expect. Cassie opens her story with that observation. The aliens of The 5th Wave are not the aliens we’ve imagined. Not the aliens we’d like to attack us.
How did you come up with the five waves. I wouldn’t classify this as a scary book, but the waves are totally realistic and frightening!
I’m not the first to speculate about what might happen when they find us. The concept of a series of attacks, rather than a War of the Worlds full-frontal assault, seems logical to me. I mean, there’s over seven billion of us. And if the goal is to “kick out the deadbeat tenant,” you wouldn’t want to wreak wholesale devastation of your new home. You would study humans for a long time, study the planet upon which they live, and use that knowledge to your advantage. Each “wave” then leads logically to the next. First, take away technology, knock the humans back a couple of centuries. Then exploit two obvious facts: plate tectonics and the fact that 40 percent of the population live within 60 miles of a coastline. And so on. I agree that the waves are very frightening, and the reason they’re so frightening is that they are perfectly plausible.
If/when “the Others” take over the planet, do you think this is how it would really happen?
I think so, or something very close to it. When I was researching the idea, I ran across the Fermi Paradox, which points out that 1) the odds are overwhelming, given the size and age of the universe, that we are NOT alone and 2) if this is the case, why is there no evidence — zero, zilch, nada — of it? Ancient astronaut theorists tell us we do have evidence; I’m not so sure. I believe they are out there. I also think the odds are good they’ll leave us alone. We’re either too far away or not worth the trouble. I chose to think that so I can sleep at night.
UP NEXT: More with Yancey…