The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: Could it be?
In a sea of YA dystopian novels, it’s difficult to stand out. So many of the stories that gained popularity around the same time as The Hunger Games have followed the basic formula of taking a teen who has grown up in this post-apocalyptic world and pitting them against the authority. The 5th Wave sets itself apart in a number of ways, most notably by having the main character witness the event that drives the Earth into chaos, and showing her having to adapt to a world that has changed overnight but is still recognisably sexist and racist.
The story follows Cassie, a fairly regular girl who witnesses the beginning of an alien attack that leads to invasion. During the upheaval, perpetuated in five “waves,” Cassie loses track of her brother and is determined to find him and save him from the aliens. She meets and befriends Evan who trains her to fight and the two must work together to try and survive.
This all raises the question, though: Could this really happen? Is it possible that the various “waves” might actually be problems we could face, either from aliens or just natural causes? While we are not made aware at the beginning of the film what the titular “5th Wave” is, we can look at the other four.
1st Wave – The first of the alien attacks is an electromagnetic surge that knocks out all power on the planet. This is probably the most logical first step to an invasion. In fact, the first plans the US drew up for aerial attacks back in 1941 involved trying to knock out German power plants. Without power, nothing else works in the modern world. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US power grid ranks a D+ and is susceptible to weather, physical attack, and even animals. There is very little financial incentive for companies to upgrade, so the whole system continues to deteriorate. While a global attack is unlikely, cascading regional attacks could be accomplished here on Earth with enough planning.
2nd Wave – The aliens use steel beams launched from space into Earth’s fault lines, creating massive tsunamis and earthquakes. This is somewhat fanciful, both in terms of steel not being able to handle reentry at that speed and the sheer scale of the devastation. That being said, extreme weather conditions are not only a possibility – they are a reality. From more severe hot and cold temperatures to enormous events like Superstorm Sandy, global climate change and overpopulation has increased the intensity of many of our weather patterns, making them capable of untold destruction.
3rd Wave – A deadly flu is unleashed on humanity, spreading quickly among the population and severely whittling down the number of living people. Disease is no joke, and health organizations around the world are constantly scrambling to try to keep it under control. This is especially true with the rise of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, eliminating the primary way that we combat those types of diseases. Viruses like the flu are already very difficult to keep under control, so while it would take some time to decimate the population, it would be nearly impossible to keep from eventually doing just that eventually.
4th Wave – At this point, the aliens are taking over the bodies of human beings, subsuming their personalities and walking among us in secret. While there is no credible basis for this sort of physical thing actually happening, the idea has been explored in science fiction as metaphor for quite some time, most notably in Invasion of the Body Snatchers which used the alien replacements to represent Communists hiding among us.
While unlikely to happen exactly as it does in the film, the various attacks in The 5th Wave are not only plausible in certain instances, they are already happening around us and many don’t even realize it. It seems many places in the world are likely susceptible to energy failure in addition to the dwindling natural resources we already have. Environmental disasters happen all the time and in most instances, unpredictably. Just a few months ago, Japan was struck with tsunami waves caused by an earthquake in Chile. Disease and epidemics are also in full throttle with the zika virus, causing flu symptoms and birth defects. And while aliens seem farfetched, there’s no telling who is out to get you.