Rick Yancey talks blockbuster sci-fi thriller 'The 5th Wave'
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…
I’m fairly confident I wouldn’t have made it through the first wave. Do you think you’d be as savvy as Cassie if you were faced with the same situation?
I like to think so. We all would. Human beings are remarkably resilient. When you think about it, our species has been teetering upon the edge of the existential cliff since Hiroshima. In short, we endure. Do I think I personally would survive? Probably not, but the species has a chance to.
A lot of the strong female protagonists in YA books are written by women. What was it like writing from the perspective of a teenage girl? Do you think that’s harder or easier than writing as a boy?
I was a little nervous at first writing from Cassie’s point of view. I’ve never been a girl. But by the second chapter, I relaxed. Cassie emerged. There is a common humanity we all share. I just had to shut up and let her talk. As for boy-versus-girl narration, I never think about it. Stay true to your characters, where they’ve been and where they’re going. Trust you’re familiar enough with the difference between the sexes and truth will come through.
There have been a ton of rave reviews for The 5th Wave—including EW’s! Did you know you had a hit on your hands? And what’s it like to get so much positive feedback right off the bat?
Oh, jeez, it really is beyond all my expectations. It’s very scary and humbling. I see a rave review and the first thing I think is KOD (Kiss of Death)! I know there are some writers who refuse to read reviews, because what do they really mean? How are raves more “true” than pans? The most satisfaction I get, whether the review is positive or negative, is when the reader reacts to my characters as if they’re real people. That’s when you know you’ve done your job as a writer.
This question is way ahead of its time, but who’s your dream choice to play Cassie in the movie version of The 5th Wave.
I honestly never allow myself to speculate about that. There is the world of books and there is the world of film. Right now, Cassie lives in the first world, but I’m very intrigued about her crossover to the second.
The 5th Wave was literally just released, but I’m already jonesing for the next book. What can you tease about book 2?
We haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will go to snuff the human noise. And we haven’t seen the heights to which the human spirit can reach. Characters introduced in book 1 will come to the fore, while others will face the ultimate test. You can expect an answer from the Others for Cassie’s defiance.
Are there any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?
I’ve very excited to be publishing the last volume in my Monstrumologist series this fall. It’s called The Final Descent. I will also have a short-story appearing in Rags & Bones, an anthology of re-imagined classics that includes stories by Neil Gaiman and other fantastic YA authors.
The 5th Wave is one of my favorite YA reads of the year, so what’s on your YA must-list for 2013?
I’m so behind in my reading, it’s embarrassing. The three books topping my list: More Than This by Patrick Ness, Prodigy by Marie Lu, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. (I think I might be the last person in America who hasn’t read this.
Anything else you want to add?
They’re out there. I don’t think I’m wrong about that. And we better hope they never find us. Don’t think I’m wrong about that, either.
The 5th Wave