What would you do if aliens invaded? The author of The 5th Wave speaks to SFX…
Earlier this year the new book from writer Rick Yancey exploded onto the scene, telling of an Earth torn apart by alien invasion. USA Today called it “a modern sci-fi masterpiece” and your chums at SFX magazine said “Rick Yancey knows his onions… the book packs real power.” So we grabbed the man himself for a quick chat about his book.
SFX: Which came first, the human story or the concept of the five waves?
Rick Yancey: The human story. My first image was of Cassie, trapped, injured, terrified, and certain that no matter what choice she made – run or hide, fight or flight – she was doomed. I view the novel from a different angle than some readers. For me, it’s not a novel about aliens so much as human beings confronted with the concept of the “other.”
SFX: The Young Adult market can claim a lot of great female characters. Is there any particular reason why you decided to base the story around a Cassie rather than, say, a Casey?
Yancey: One of my (many) fears as a writer is creative apathy – as well as creative atrophy. I’ve never told a story using a female protagonist and knew it was time to tackle that challenge. Not merely for the sake of it, but also because I thought it would be infinitely more interesting from a female perspective. My personal view is the story comes before market considerations, but I also am not ignorant of the fact that female readers, whether young or old or in between, far outnumber males.
SFX: You had to create a believable future earth for The 5th Wave. How did you go about that?
Yancey: Research and forcing myself to think outside the box, to think, in other words, of the entities who most likely would attack us, not the ones we usually wish would. The “human” aliens, in Cassie’s words. The day will come (thankfully it’s still quite a ways off) when the sun will gobble up our home and, if the species is to survive, we will have to find a new one. That’s the only conceivable reason an alien life-form might hazard a journey across the galaxy – to find a new home. So the question became how do you remove the indigenous species without rendering your new place uninhabitable? How do you address the problem that there are seven billion of us spread over every landmass? I agree with many speculative writers and scientists that you would a) go low-tech to limit destruction and b) the only way to accomplish this is by a series of attacks that takes advantage of both our strengths and weaknesses, how we are dispersed on the earth, and the structure of the earth itself.
SFX: Were there any post-apocalyptic/dystopian worlds from science fiction that inspired you? Are there any authors who you think have done this particularly well?
Yancey: Two works leap immediately to mind: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The first is dystopia at its most disturbing; the second is post-apocalyptic at its most brutally logical.
SFX: Who are you inspired by in books and film?
Yancey: Gosh, more than I could name here. A great film or book (even a great song) awakens something in me. Maybe you could call it the muse or the creative kindling? The best ones linger like personal memories – characters who seem more real than the real people in your life. That’s what great art does, after all. Creator’s ideals and lives inspire me, too. The sacrifices made, the hardships endured.
SFX: What would the 6th wave be?
Yancey: 6th wave? Who said anything about a 6th wave? Perhaps the Others’ plan ends with five. There are still secrets and unrevealed truths about this invasion as yet untold. I chuckle when I see comments by readers who are annoyed at seeming incongruities in the first book or who question the “wisdom” of the invaders. What appears to be the truth at the end of The 5th Wave might not quite be the truth. You would think after all the twists and reversals one finds in the opening act of this three-act play, a savvy reader would anticipate there might be more to come.
SFX: If you could have any actors in the world in a movie adaptation, who would you choose and why?
Yancey: I avoid dream casting. I’m very superstitious about it, thinking it will jinx all chances for a movie.
SFX: Do you think Cassie and Katniss Everdeen would get along?
Yancey: I think they might be a little envious of each other. Cassie might gladly trade a dystopia for a post-apocalypse (at least some form of civilization has survived). Katniss might view the superior weaponry and the odds as so much better in her favour.
SFX: Why do you think we haven’t been contacted by extraterrestrials yet?
Yancey: Well, there are quite a few people out there who think that we have. I’m ambivalent on the subject. Perhaps they occupy a different dimension and can’t contact us. Perhaps they’re limited by the physical universe (too damn far away).
SFX: What would you do if aliens invaded in real life?
Yancey: I think I would do what most of us do in a catastrophe: hold my loved ones close and be forced to recognize that in the grand scheme of things, the individual is damned insignificant. I would cling to the hope, however, that we are a remarkably resilient species.