“The world is a clock winding down.”
My mother often complains to me that all books come in series bundles these days, and if you’re a fan of genre fiction that certainly seems to be the case. I often find that I read the first book in a series and, even if I like it, never wade into subsequent installments. Reading the second book in a series feels a bit like signing a marriage contract, and I rarely like to commit myself to that kind of page time unless I’m really wild about the first book. When I finished Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave there was no doubt in my mind as to whether or not I’d read the next book in the series, The Infinite Sea. For the uninitiated, this is YA post-apocalyptic juice, and this apocalypse is courtesy of the most sadistic aliens pretty much ever. We spend our time split between two different narratives: Cassie, a spunky, foul-mouthed, highly likable girl who spent much of the first novel either traipsing about in the wilderness on her own or playing Stockholm Syndrome with Evan Walker who (spoiler alert!) IS AN ALIEN UH OH SHIT, GIRL; and Ringer, a stoic, ice maiden of a sniper. Cassie and the rest of the PTSD Scoobies are holed up in a hotel waiting for her alien boyfriend to crawl out from under the military base he blew up, and Ringer is off trying to find shelter that is less likely to get smushed by aliens, and holy shit, is this book a ride.
Yancey does all the same things he did right in The Fifth Wave; it is a cinematic, wildly entertaining, pulse pounding ride through a post-apocalyptic wasteland that will keep you turning the pages even if you know that you need to go to bed or you’ll be queen of the grumps. That said, The Infinite Sea is still quite a departure from The Fifth Wave in tone; whereas The Fifth Wave was about survival and action that acquaints you with the nature of the alien takeover, The Infinite Sea is mostly about paranoia. It is smaller in scale in that much of both sides of the narrative take place within a single room…err, rooms. A lot of it happens inside different single rooms on both sides, that is. Whatever. Anyways. It is still about survival, but rather than surviving in a dead world, the battleground in The Infinite Sea is the mind. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a solid dose of fast-paced action, but there’s also a lot of arguing and inner torment as those who remain try to figure out where they fit in this version of the end of the world.
One of the things that I most appreciated about The Infinite Sea is that, right from the start, Yancey rips open all the niggling holes of Evan’s explanation of who the Others are and why they’ve invaded earth via the skepticism of Ben (a.k.a. Zombie) and Ringer. For me, this skepticism sandwich did two things; one, it showed that those plot holes that may have been a bit…puzzling in The Fifth Wave were intentional, and two, it signals the unraveling of our heroes’ concepts of what the fuck is going on, who is an alien, who is human, what it means to be human, just a full on paranoia melt down that does not let up even when the novel closes. I put it down last night with the totally satisfied feeling of still having no fucking idea what was going on, not in a “this is bullshit writing” kind of way, but in a way that mirrors the total psychological clusterfuck that is going on in all of the characters’ minds. It was really fucking well done.
Yancey showed his muscular writing chops in both his use of, frankly, surprisingly poetic language and the obvious fun he was having with genre tropes. Though, I don’t know why I’m surprised at his writing ability; his Monstrumologist series is hella respected within the YA field, and that is another dose of him playing with genre, only in that case with old-fashioned Lovecraftian splatter horror. In this instance, whenever I found myself getting annoyed with the use of cliches or standard action fare, he would throw in a careful sentence to show that he was totally aware of the tropes he was using, that it was all intentional. There are very few things I love more than finding evidence of the fun a writer is having with his or her work; it’s one of the reasons I love M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series so much, and it’s something that is also highly evident here, moreso than in The Fifth Wave.
So, bottom line, if I wasn’t sold on this series after reading The Fifth Wave, I’m totally sold now. It’s more layered, more richer psychological exploration of character and trauma and humanity when all that makes us human is being ripped away in the most sadistic, fucked up ways possible. In other words, I’m totally stoked I signed this particular marriage contract.
For music, let’s go for Danzig’s “The Hunter” for that creepy ass Nordic supermodel looking alien motherfucker.