YA Guy loves alien-invasion narratives.
I even thought of writing a book about them. Maybe I will one of these days.
The best of these narratives hinge on an elegant paradox: the aliens are both foreign and familiar, different and the same.
They are them, and they are us.
One of the granddaddies of the genre, H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, played on that paradox. The aliens are ruthless monsters, the very antithesis of the British Empire (they are them). The aliens are ruthless monsters, the very image of the British Empire (they are us).
Flash-forward to the fifties, the heyday of alien-invasion narratives in the U.S. From Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Thing to The Blob, the alien invaders were both soulless Communists (they are them) and soulless conformity (they are us).
One way to spot a bad alien-invasion narrative is if it ignores or denies this paradox. If the aliens are pure monsters and those fighting them pure heroes, you’re better off closing the book or turning off the TV.
You know what I mean. Anything directed by Roland Emmerich.
Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave has the paradox down cold. As one of the characters, an alien whose soul has been implanted within a human body, puts it: “I am Other and I am you.”
I enjoyed Yancey’s book. The writing is top-notch, the young adult characters believable, the world-building superior; he really thought out how humanity would respond if an overwhelming force were to obliterate 97% of our species in a few short months. One of the book’s multiple narrators even makes fun of alien-invasion movies where human beings, with our stone-age technology, miraculously fight off a race of conquerors who have mastered intergalactic space travel.
You know, anything directed by Roland Emmerich.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book--and this is more a critique of the genre than of Yancey's novel alone--was the aliens’ motivation. It seems these days, the only reason aliens come to our planet is to kill us all off so they can have the whole earth to themselves. That’s the stuff of great drama, I suppose, but it does make me wonder. If aliens are not only them but us, might not their motivations be more complex than that? Might they not have an interest in studying us, interacting with us, living among us, learning from us? Might not their motivations (like ours) be multiple and conflicted?
Not trying to be touchy-feely here, folks. Not suggesting the aliens come down to earth and sing Kumbaya. Just looking for them to be a bit less sociopathic--creatures that can kill, sure, but also creatures that can feel the pangs of conscience.
YA Guy’s waiting….