The Cage

The Cage by Megan Shepherd is a technically a dystopian story, although in this case the repressive regime is made up of aliens.

Cora wasn’t exactly a typical teenage girl even before the alien abduction. She is the daughter of a Senator and an actress and has recently been released for a long term stint in juvie for manslaughter. After waking up in an alien environment where different landscapes and climates all jut up next to each other, she finds she is not alone. There are other teens, Rolf a Norwegian genius, Nok a Thai model, Leon a Maori from a criminal family, and finally Lucky an American boy who may have a connection to Cora. Actually, there was one more teen who woke up but something terrible has happened to her. That will be a problem as now there is an uneven number of teens and yet each teen is supposed to be mated with one of the others by a 21 day deadline.

Their alien abductors watch from behind one way glass scattered throughout the environments, similar to the one-way glass in police stations, except in this case the aliens are more like scientists or anthropologists observing their behaviors. The aliens have put different types of puzzles into each locale and if they solve a puzzle they receive tokens which can be redeemed for different items, similar to gaming places now.

Supposedly the aliens have abducted them for their own good as humans are destroying the Earth , unlike the aliens that are higher beings with telepathic and other abilities despite looking very similar to humans.   Their caretaker alien is named Cassian and he has a particular affinity to Cora. Cora who the others get angry with as when she solves a puzzle she is given many more tokens than the others. Other incidents like this cause a rift in the group.

Rolf and Nok have reasons based on their pasts that make them believe that despite their captivity their extended cage is not so bad. Leon is too haunted by a memory from their first day to care about anything else. Lucky is consumed with guilt over an action he took back on Earth and which is revealed later in the story. Cora simply wants to go home, home even with all the problems of divorcing parents, her peers who can’t relate to her after her time in juvie, and all the pressures of being a Senator’s daughter. Plus, there is Cassian and her mixed feelings about him.

It’s the latter which hurts this story as Cassian becomes part of a love triangle that also includes Lucky. I personally am not sure I would feel anything but hatred for my abductor, but maybe she has Stockholm’s Syndrome? I kind of think it sense the wrong message to young girls everywhere that there could be anything attractive about a character like Cassian who has control over you, am I wrong? Its that sick dominance thing combined with the stilted triangle that made me no fan of this book. Even the ending wasn’t great and it was confusing to boot as to whether this was a one-off story or whether it had the inevitable sequel…turns out it does. That kind of stinks for me because after what an economist would term a sunk cost, I wrongly feel that I must continue with the next.

 

The 5th Wave

What does it mean to be human?  That’s the central question of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  Normally I like my apocalyptic fiction to focus on human characters, even if they have turned into zombies or somesuch.  However, I really enjoyed this book as it made me think about questions such as:  What does it mean to be human? Does trying to survive justify the means?  Are the people who survive apocalyptic events lucky or unlucky?  And what does it mean to love?

The main character Cassie amused me with the way she described the alien invasion and how it resembled nothing like the cuddly character of ET, nor the scary machines in Star Wars.  It’s funny that the media has such on influence on our modern society that people can only imagine the Others in terms of fictional works they are familiar with; these aliens will be both better and worse than anything imagined so far.

The title of the book refers to each event once the Others, aliens, appear in the sky.    Between the ship appearing on satellite images and the 1st Wave, there was time to prepare, yet in a swipe at our current government, no strategy was developed to deal with the arrival of the aliens.  The 1st Wave was a massive electromagnetic pulse that killed approximately 500,000 people, which in many ways seems like a massive loss of life, but when you compare it to the Earth’s population it is almost miniscule.   The 2nd Wave wiped out entire cities as the aliens manipulated the weather to cause weather disasters.  The 3rd Wave was a genetically altered virus which killed 97 out of a 100 people.  The 4th Wave is that the Others look and act like humans in order to hunt down their prey, which means what is left of the survivors of the other waves can’t band together for strength in numbers to survive without taking a big risk. 

Cassie knows that a 5th Wave is coming, she just hasn’t figured out what it will entail yet.  She has been too busy turning from a teen with a schoolgirl crush into a survivor, and she has made a promise to reunite with her little brother Sammy.  Her mission to find him is interrupted when she is shot by an Other and then rescued by a boy named Evan Walker who complicates Cassie’s way of thinking and plans, even while she fights her reaction to him.  Many romances in apocalyptic novels are a detour from the central plot, but it’s Cassie’s relationship with Evan that is the true heart of the story.

I enjoyed Cassie’s ‘voice’ throughout the story, the sarcasm as she describes how slow people were to grasp the new reality.  She is vulnerable and honest, scared, but brave.  This isn’t about a book about aliens, this is a book about what it is to be human, and Cassie exemplifies the struggle to really understand what that truly means. 

The way the book ended made me think this was a one novel story, it ends in a way that left me completely satisfied, so I have mixed feelings that I am reading online that this is a trilogy and one that has acquired movie rights.  I am not sure I want the answers to what happens next, nor do I want to see some Hollywood boy toy wooden actor cast in the role of Evan…