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Literature / The 5th Wave

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But if I'm it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I'm going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield.

The 5th Wave is a young adult apocalyptic Science Fiction thriller trilogy by Rick Yancey, who has also written the Alfred Kropp series and the Monstrumologist series. The books are:

  • The 5th Wave (2013)
  • The Infinite Sea (2014)
  • The Last Star (2016)

A group of mysterious aliens - referred to by humanity as The Others - have enacted four waves of terror that have eradicated the vast majority of the human race. A small cadre of Others called Silencers have taken on human forms, tasked with picking off the rest of the human survivors. The series follows humanity's last attempts to stop the invasion and reclaim some semblance of civilization. It does this through dual sixteen-year-old protagonists: Cassie Sullivan and Ben "Zombie" Parish.

Cassie lives alone with her M16 and her younger brother's teddy bear, hiding from the Silencers, trusting no one - until she meets the gorgeous and mysterious Evan Walker, who she begins to fall for in spite of having doubts about his humanity. Cassie's detailed flashbacks explain the four waves of desolation that have nearly wiped out humanity: an electromagnetic pulse that disabled all electronics and thus all forms of communication; massive tsunamis and earthquakes that completely wiped out the coasts; an airborne plague transmitted by birds; and, finally, the aforementioned Silencers, who are tasked by the Others to kill everyone they meet.

Zombie is in a military camp that may be the last hope for humanity, being trained as a soldier in a squad with members as young as seven. When a five year old boy, Private Nugget, is assigned to his squadron, Zombie does his best to protect him from not only the sadistic drill instructor, but the horrors of war that are encroaching around them, slowly strangling what little innocence they have left.

The series has been adapted as a 2015 movie under the same title.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey Contains Examples Of:

  • Action Bomb: We see one at the beginning of The Infinite Sea, and another later in the same novel.
  • Action Girl: Both Cassie and Ringer.
  • After the End: The actual 'end' hasn't been reached yet, as the Alien Invasion is still ongoing, but humanity and civilization as a whole have been all but wiped out.
  • Agent Peacock: Evan is a handsome, Pretty Boy-esque guy whose perfectly-manicured nails Cassie comments on multiple times. He's also a Silencer, and one of the most badass members of the main cast.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Subverted(ish). At first they appear to be universally evil. But then Evan turns out to be one, and explains that a lot of the Others actually thought they could live with the humans side by side, but were outnumbered by those who thought the humans had to all be killed off.
  • Alien Invasion: The premise of the story.
  • And Then What?: On a meta level. Should the Others manage to exterminate humanity to the last individual, especially as the vast majority see possessing a human beneath them, what are they going to use for hosts?
  • Arc Words: "I am humanity."
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts: The gun disarming technique Evan teaches to Cassie, which involves pushing the gun and striking the gunner's hand stationarily and in opposite directions, is Suicide by Cop at its finest. Even if you somehow achieved the grip on the gun without the gunner shooting you point blank at the very first contact, the strike would only increase the chance for the gun to fire accidentally while the push would only work to keep the gun placed in the perfect position to pump you with a hole, not to mention the motions might even make the gunner instinctively pull the trigger on you in the attempt to retain his hold even if he didn't actually intend to shoot in the first place.In fact Being held at gunpoint, especially at very close quarters as in the film, is enough reason not to try anything, but seriously, do not try that move in real life.
  • Assimilation Plot: In the chapter "Silencer", one of the invading aliens reveals that the purpose for purging the vast majority of humanity, and turning the remaining children into abused Child Soldiers is to facilitate supplanting their personalites and making them hosts for themselves, so as to secure a future for their dying race.
  • Badass Boast: See the page quote.
  • Backstory: In the first hundred or so pages of The 5th Wave, Cassie repeatedly flashes back to explain what has happened to her from when the spaceship first appeared in the sky onwards. We eventually see flashbacks for most of the central cast.
  • Battle Couple: Cassie and Evan kick serious ass together.
  • Be All My Sins Remembered: Evan.
    Evan: I am a shark, Cassie. A shark who dreamed he was a man.
  • Berserk Button: Do not even think about touching Cassie's brother. Dare to anyway, and she will hunt you down and put a bullet in your head, even if it takes her months or even years.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Evan. So much.
  • Big Bad: Vosch.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of The Last Star, the aliens' mothership has been destroyed, but Cassie is dead and humanity will never come back from the devastation the Others' Waves wreaked on them, indicated by Cassie's journal entry exclusive to some versions being titled "The Last Historian's Final Journal Entry."
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Cassie and Evan. Well, bonding over missing parents plus the apocalypse.
  • Bookends: Cassie's thought "Aliens are stupid," which opens the first book and is repeated much, much later in a very different situation and with a different meaning.
  • Break the Cutie: Every single sympathetic character, but special mention goes to Private Nugget a.k.a. Cassie's brother, Sammy. He's five years old, and subjected to horrible humiliation, not to mention physical peril and abuse, in an attempt to make him into a child soldier.
  • Broken Pedestal: Zombie gets to quite admire Vosch before finding out the reality of the situation.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Silencers, without exception, are all hard-wired to "know" that they're going to be carried up to the alien ship, before it starts bombarding and utterly destroying all the cities on Earth, eliminating any and all traces that humans existed once and for all. While there's no room for doubt about the threat of orbital bombardment after "the second wave," the promise of the Silencers being carried up to the spaceship is dubious, considering the deafening silence of The Others so far.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In a very literal presentation of the trope, Dumbo's gun is one in The Last Star. In a slightly-less literal portrayal, Ringer's bomb is one as well.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Commander Vosch. By the end of the first novel, you realize that he is successfully manipulating the remaining human youth into bringing about the extinction of their own species by convincing them the humans are the aliens and vice versa.
    • Ringer also seems to be a little chessmaster in training.
      Ringer: Chess, Zombie: defending yourself from the move that hasn't happened yet.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Commander Vorsch, being a humongously Large Ham.
    Vosch: You are the human clay, and I am Michelangelo. I am the master builder, and you will be my masterpiece.
    • Also, the sadistic drill sergeant Reznik.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Zombie takes Private Nugget under his wing and protects him from their sadistic drill sergeant. He later risks his life on a long-shot attempt to break Nugget out of the base. He later risks his life again in an effort to rescue Ringer and Teacup, and another time trying to save Nugget and Megan. He becomes painfully aware that he's driven to do this because of guilt over the one person he didn't try to save.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Reznik, all the way.
  • Curious Qualms of Conscience: Evan.
  • Daddy's Girl: You get the impression that Cassie was this before her dad was brutally killed by the Others impersonating the military.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Everyone, by necessity, since this is, you know, the apocalypse.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Cassie, Marika's daughter
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cassie.
    Cassie: In case you're an alien and you're reading this: BITE ME.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The Waves. By the beginning of the series, there are less than 120 million people leftnote .
  • Desolation Shot: Several, most memorably one at the beginning of an abandoned convenience store.
  • Determinator: Cassie.
    Cassie: When the moment comes to stop running from your past, to turn around and face the thing you thought you could not face—the moment when your life teeters between giving up and getting up—when that moment comes, and it always comes, if you can't get up and you can't give up either, here's what you do: crawl.
  • Divided We Fall: Exploited magnificently by the Others when they use the Silencers to make sure that the humans are very divided indeed.
  • Double Consciousness: Evan Walker.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: In the movie, Cassie tries to look for Evan only to find him washing off in a river shirtless. She oodles at his body for a good few seconds.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Private Nugget, even for a five-year-old.
  • Emotionless Girl: Ringer. Or so she seems to Zombie and Cassie.
  • EMP: The First Wave consists of this, killing half a million people after shutting down cars and mid-flight aircraft.
  • Endangered Species: By chapter III "Silencer", humans and the Others.
  • Foil: Grace to Evan. She's an unconflicted Silencer, completely engaged in her purpose and detached from her human personality; he fights his purpose and embraces his humanity.
  • Gallows Humor: Cassie throws out some gems.
    Cassie: I don't move. I wait behind my log, terrified. Over the past ten minutes, it's become such a dear friend, I consider naming it: Howard, my pet log. (continues to refer to the log as "Howard" for the rest of the scene)
  • Ghost Town: Pick a town, any town.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The Second Wave consisted of these. The Others dropped rods "twice the size of the Empire State Building and three times as heavy" onto the Earth's fault lines, triggering huge earthquakes and tsunamis that wiped out the world's coastal cities and killed three billion people.
  • The Government: Commander Vosch claims he is a part of this.
  • Grew a Spine: The Silencer, a.k.a. Evan Walker, kills people so the Others can colonize, even though he completely disagrees with it. By the end of The 5th Wave, he stands up to the Others and does what's right.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Surprisingly.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Evan.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the end of the final novel The Last Star, Cassie sacrifices herself to destroy the mothership by detonating the bomb Ringer made, which blows up the mothership as a result.
  • Heroism Motivation Speech:
    Evan: I had it all wrong. Before I found you, I thought the only way to hold on was to find something to live for. It isn't. To hold on, you have to find something you're willing to die for.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: What IS the ultimate goal of the Others? Why do they want the Earth, specifically, so badly. Are they really "cleaning house" for new tenants? Are they trying to breed a Super-Soldier army, and simply kill off everyone who doesn't measure up? Is it all really nothing more than a sick game, like a kid holding a magnifying glass over an anthill? Do they just hate humans for some reason? The only ones who know for sure are the Others, and they're not talking. Even at the end of the second book, all we have is rampant speculation, coming from numerous sources, all with their own unique POV, and none of them match, as Ringer put it, like a group of blind men feeling an elephant.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Yup. In a flashback, when everyone is scared the aliens are going to kill them, what do the teenagers do? Have sex under the bleachers.
  • Hot-Blooded: Reznik.
  • Humans Are Insects: Universally, The Silencers all compare humans to cockroaches or other much less "evolved" creatures, and find the very notion of co-existence repulsive, at least all the ones we've seen. Those that actually like humans are called insane by their peers. The Others are officially still silent.
  • In Medias Res: Begins with Cassie traveling alone as she flees the Fourth Wave. Gradually fills in the Backstory via flashbacks.
  • Innocence Lost: Every non-adult character.
  • It's Personal: Cassie's one and only rational explanation for why the Others are doing things the way they are.
    Cassie: "They hate us. Nothing else makes sense. They're not out to rip the planet out from under us. They're out to rip us!"
  • I Will Find You: Cassie's main goal in the first book is to find and rescue her five-year-old brother. Zombie forms the same goal.
  • Jerkass: Reznik's kinda this.
    Reznik: Private Zombie, did your mother have any children that lived?
    Ben (Zombie): Sir! Yes, sir!
    Reznik: I bet when you were born she took one look at you and tried to shove you back in!
  • Kick the Dog: Anything that Reznik does, but especially the scenes where he viciously bullies Private Nugget.
  • Love Triangle: Played with. Cassie had an unrequited crush on Ben (now Zombie), as evidenced in flashbacks, but they are separate for most of the novel, and she develops a relationship with Evan. At the very end of The 5th Wave she meets up with Zombie and there is a brief Ship Tease.
  • Mama Bear: Cassie is this for her little brother Sammy.
  • Meaningful Rename: Every Child Soldier is given a new name and addressed exclusively by that, in the effort to make them think of themselves only as soldiers and not as the children they were before. On several occasions, Zombie thinks that he did not even know a particular squad member's original name. (Indeed, the reader doesn't learn most of their names, even in their flashbacks.) At the end of the trilogy, Zombie refuses to continue using the "squad" names, insisting on being addressed as "Ben" and on calling Ringer and Nugget "Marika" and "Sammy," indicating the reclaiming of their civilian identities.
  • Military Science Fiction: Zombie's plot line in the first book.
  • Mundane Luxury: Cassie finds Evan's home awesome after having slept in a tent and lived off of cans for months.
  • Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer: The Silencers, except for the mercenary bit.
  • Mysterious Past: Played with. Evan does give a backstory, but leaves one thing out. He's a Silencer.
  • Near-Villain Victory: By the beginning of the trilogy.
  • Neat Freak: Evan. His house is ridiculous levels of tidy, especially considering the whole apocalypse thing.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Surprisingly averted. The Others are called aliens several times.
  • The Plague: The Third Wave consisted of a disease spread by birds and their droppings. At first it resembled a cold or flu, but progressed to the point that victims bled out of every orifice and suffered from multiple seizures. This disease killed over 97% of the surviving population.
  • Pragmatic Heroine: Cassie, all out.
  • Pretty Boy: Razor. Ringer describes him as attractive, with a swimmer's body.
  • Promotion to Parent: Cassie, for Sammy. As Sammy's squad leader, Zombie becomes the boy's other Parental Substitute.
  • Psychological Horror: Has some aspects of this.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Evan at first.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The Others. They appear in x-ray scans as a sort of tumor on the brain. (Or so the young soldiers are told.)
  • Redemption Quest: Zombie wants to destroy the Others to make up for having failed to save his sister.
  • The Reveal:
    • Evan's a Silencer.
    • Not all the Others wanted to Kill All Humans.
    • The Child Soldiers are being manipulated into killing off the last human survivors.
    • The priest at the caverns is a Silencer. So is the elderly cat lady.
  • Sadist Teacher: Reznik.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Cassie and her precious, precious M16.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Cassie, daughter of Marika and Razor
  • The Squad: Zombie's barrack.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The Silencers. Used to chilling effect early in the novel when Cassie finds an injured soldier dying in an abandoned convenience store, but doesn't know if he's a Silencer or not and so shoots him out of fear. It turns out he was perfectly human.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In Cassie's back story, she's your average schoolgirl. Now, she's a gun-toting badass who kills aliens.
    • Also, Zombie. Unlike Cassie, though, he actually becomes progressively more badass throughout the book.
    • Any of the child soldiers, really.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Vosch.
  • The Virus: The third wave.
  • Walk the Earth: Cassie, at the beginning of the first book.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: Several.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Cassie's friend Liz. The book never mentions what happened to her while the movie last shows her being quarantined during the Third Wave, although she isn't displaying any symptoms and claims she isn't sick.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Others, obviously.
  • Would Not Hurt A Child: The Others repeatedly exploit human unwillingness to hurt children, including by using Child Soldiers and literal Tyke Bombs.

Alternative Title(s): The Fifth Wave