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Literature / The Third Wheel

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Being single isn't the end of the world...
The Third Wheel is a 2019 science fiction novel by Michael J Ritchie.

Dexter Scithers feels like the universe is taunting him. Everywhere he turns, he's accosted by wedding invitations, housewarming parties and tables for two. All of his friends are settling down with their other halves, while Dexter spends his evenings with only his cat for company.

But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective...

Tropes in this book:

  • Aerith and Bob: While most characters have pretty normal names, there are also characters called Peregrina and Shell, although Word of God says that the latter is actually short for "Michelle", she's just never called that.
  • Alien Abduction: At the end, Dexter, Shell and Frederik are the only remaining survivors of the main characters and get abducted
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted; they speak using colour.
  • Alone Among the Couples: Dexter is the living embodiment of this trope
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  • Ambiguous Ending: It's unclear exactly which characters survive the novel's end and for how long they will continue to do so
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: To a degree, but given most of the population is dead it's limited to stealing food from restaurants and shops. There doesn't appear to be any military intervention though, and all governments have fallen.
  • Bait-and-Switch: If you hadn't read the prologue or the blurb, it seems like it's going to be a story about a man's quest to end his bachelorhood. It isn't.
  • Berserk Button: When Terry is killed, Shell goes medieval on the killer. Dexter also blows his top when Alex doesn't understand him
  • Best Friend: Dexter and Priti - or at least, oldest friend.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The aliens apparently permanently conjoin to reproduce and are attempting to do the same to the humans; they also communicate visually with colour
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  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: A married alien couple share one body
  • Body Horror: Most of the conjoined humans.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Once their guns are lost, stolen and out of ammo, the gang take rusting, historical weapons from the British Museum, including swords, flint tools and a halberd.
  • But Not Too Bi: While two characters are noted as being bisexual (see above), they are both in monogamous relationships.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: How Dexter meets Jay and Kay
  • Caught Up in the Rapture: Reverend Fawkes believes that the Rapture has come
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The first half of the book is very tongue-in-cheek and heavy on the jokes. About halfway through, two characters we've grown to know and like die graphically and things get a lot darker from then on.
  • Corpse Land: Post-invasion London
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Peregrina imagines herself ending up like this before she meets Pete
  • Darkest Hour: The planet will probably never see a successful human civilization again, and the surviving characters have no hope of escape
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Dexter's parents died in a car crash when he was a child
  • Deleted Scene: At the very end of the novel there are extra scenes detailing some of the events that occurred when Dexter wasn't around; namely how Gavin-and-Frederik made it to the museum, what happened on Lara-and-Steve's honeymoon, and how long Peregrina-and-Pete survived after leaving the group. A fourth scene, showing Annie-and-Matt's time with the aliens was completely cut, and is therefore a genuine deleted scene.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Of a sort, as it seems the vast majority of humans are killed off within the first few hours of the invasion
  • Disposing of a Body: The characters try and do what they can with some of the bodies, but they can't bury them all
  • Downer Ending: Aliens have won the Earth and Dexter has seen the death of almost everyone he loves
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Jay and Kay have time to tell each other that they love one another before they die, although they already knew; Alex admits that he loved more than just Ruby
  • Emergency Broadcast: These are seen at the beginning of the invasion
  • Expansion Pack Past: Many chapters show how Dexter met his friends, and each one reveals a little more about how he became who he is, reaching a head when we finally get his own backstory
  • Exposition Break: For the first half of the novel, every other chapter gives backstory as to how Dexter met his friends and how they met their partners
  • Extremely Short Timespan: It takes humanity just hours to give up in the presence of a bigger threat; the rest of the events take place over a week or so
  • Family of Choice: With no family left of his own, Dexter treats his friends like a family, which makes it harder for him to see them pair off
  • Final Girl: Shell is the only female character to survive
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Discussed openly with Dexter and Priti; also works for what everyone goes through later
  • Flashback: Several chapters detail how Dexter's relationships came into being. It's actually more layered than that, as the whole story is going on in Dexter's head as he tries to stay sane in a cell on an alien spaceship
  • Foreshadowing: Some of the chapters explaining how Dexter met his friends contain references to what happens later. Priti-and-Art are mentioned as perhaps not being in love, which is proven true when they are shown to be survivors. Ruby's involves a pregnant character. Annie is asked if she's ever inevitably betrayed anyone, and does this herself at the end. Alex also shows great concern for the other women he loves.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Priti doesn't remember her first meeting with Dexter; she thinks their second meeting was the first.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't: Everyone seems to choose their friends over their family by the end
  • Friendship Moment: Many, but Gavin hugging Dexter in particular, which is described as being a very rare event
  • Gay Best Friend: Gavin, but played down
  • Genius Bonus: Outside the church there are foxgloves, a source the fatal poison digitalin. Inside, Fawkes poisons his parishioners.
  • Genre Savvy: Jay and Kay are both science fiction fans, so have some savvy regarding what's happening
  • Genre Shift: A story that appears to be about a guy trying to lose his bachelorhood status rapidly turns into an alien invasion story of survival
  • Happily Married: A story that appears to be about a guy trying to lose his bachelorhood status rapidly turns into an alien invasion story of survival
  • Heartbroken Badass: When Terry is killed, Shell goes medieval on the killer.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Dexter with most of the others.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The aliens have two arms, two legs and roughly equivalent faces, but recognition stops there
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Any chapter that flashes back to how Dexter met someone is titled "[Name]-and-[Name]". This is almost parodied later with the chapter titles "Ruby-and-Alex-and-", which reveals more about their relationship, and "Victoria-and-Albert", which sees the group go to the V&A Museum
  • Inspiration Nod: Several book titles are mentioned in the novel, and they're almost all either about alien invasion (The War of the Worlds), dystopian futures (The Handmaid's Tale) or duality (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Lara is seen with a copy of Titus Andronicus at one point, which is the Shakespeare play with the highest body count, which is apt.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Most of the gang are in their mid-to-late twenties, with Pete being the exception as he's around forty.
  • Ironic Echo: Dexter and Georgina break up because he tells her he'd rather be alone than with her. When she disappears during the invasion, she seems to have made the same decision.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Terry
    "Let's show these fucking aliens that humans aren't going to be pushed around any -"
    There's a whip crack sound and a piece of Terry's brain lands on my cheek.
  • Limited Social Circle: Dexter has a lot of friends who don't all know one another, but seem to have few other friends (or indeed family) to worry about during the apocalypse.
  • Love Triangle: Alex admits that as well as dating Ruby, he also had feelings for Kay and Annie
  • No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Averted; the main characters use bikes to escape the aliens at one point
  • Noodle Incident: One of the catalysts for Dexter and Georgina breaking up is that he "accidentally" set fire to her dress, although quite how he did this is never explained
  • Only Friend: It's implied that Gavin's blunt personality means he has few friends, with Dexter being the only one willing to put up with him
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Any number of examples, most notably Dexter trying to convince Alex not to kill himself
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Dexter tries to imply that Georgina is one, but she actually seems quite sane, if lonely
  • Puny Earthlings: Humans cannot match up to the aliens skills and weaponry.
  • Red Shirt: The woman who is abducted at the end says one word before being killed. She's even wearing a red top.
  • Sex with the Ex: Dexter and Georgina, twice.
  • Shipper on Deck: Dexter is irritated by his friends coupling up, but he also knows a good couple when he sees one, particuarly Jay-and-Kay and Gavin-and-Frederik
  • Shout-Out: There are a couple of references to Michael J Ritchie's previous novel The Atomic Blood-Stained Bus, namely a blood-stained bus, and a letter seen in an office that's addressed to one of its protagonists, and Dexter wears a pink and green outfit at one point, like Algernon.
    • In one scene, a nurse called Poppy is mentioned - a completely throwaway line that makes reference to the Hogwarts matron.
    • The lawyer's office that the group take refuge in is for a firm called Satterthwaite & Quin, a direct reference to Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Mr Quin".
  • Skewed Priorities: To some degree; Dexter is concerned about his singleness but loses some of this when the invasion begins; Georgina seems more interested in dating than surviving however.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: When aliens first invade, they knock out all humanity for eight hours to give themselves a headstart in killing off the natives and setting their crafts down.
  • Social Circle Filler: Lara and Steve's wedding is apparently quite large, but we only see the characters who turn up later on.
  • The Right of a Superior Species: The aliens have looked at humanity's history and decided that it would be hypocritical for the humans to complain about being dominated.
  • Third Wheel: Obviously, although given the size of the cast, Dexter is actually something like a fifteenth wheel
  • Token Minority: Priti is the only member of the cast whose race is specifically stated, and seems to be the only non-white character.
  • Translator Buddy: Frederik can understand the alien language.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Frederik is bisexual and blind (and if we count his Dutch nationality, perhaps a Threefer)
  • Unreliable Narrator: Dexter claims to be an excellent friend to those around him, but closer inspection of the relationships suggests that possibly they put up with a lot more from him. He is also quite keen to label Georgina something of a psycho, but there's actually little evidence beyond his words.
  • White Male Lead: Dexter says that Priti is the only person of colour at his school, which is the only indication that he's white.