Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Am Humanity": Posthumanism and Embodiment in Rick Yancey's the 5th Wave Series

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

"I Am Humanity": Posthumanism and Embodiment in Rick Yancey's the 5th Wave Series

Article excerpt

THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY ON OUR DAILY LIVES CAN SCARCELY BE overstated. Innovations in the digital realm have revolutionized the way we move, work, interact, learn--in short, the way we are. It is important then for popular literature for young adults to consider these issues, especially as it addresses a readership that is often the most directly affected by these technological changes at a time of formative "physical, cognitive, social, and psychological development" (Latrobe and Drury 4). If the speed of technological change has thus resulted in a renewed interest, within YA literature, in technology and its impact, for science fiction writers, Victoria Flanagan argues, "the effects of technology on human beings and society" have been a topic of anxiety ever since the 1980s, resulting mostly in "dystopian hyper-technical futures" that young adults then have to navigate and resist (1-2). Indeed, most science fiction works are built around the themes of a technologized world and the corresponding consequences it bears on individuals and communities. As Farah Mendlesohn notes, these unfold as "extensions of adult concerns about the world," and thus tend to promote an attitude of "continual rejection of changing knowledge transfer technology" (173). Reflecting adult fears at the prospect of being left behind by new digital technologies and socially replaced by new scientific advancements, these works often lead to bleak futures and thus present little value to a new generation of teenagers. Offering "warnings to refuse the future entire, or an advocacy of utopian retrenchment" (Mendlesohn 173), these texts ultimately seem to oppose a genre that has defined itself by its interest in human adaptation when confronted with new technologies.

Though one can look with concern at the approach taken by some of science fiction's texts written for adults, a recent wave of publications for younger readers has been marked by a significant shift in how these technologized futures are negotiated. Opening up avenues in which "young people might achieve agency through their interactions with technoscience" (Flanagan 2), this series of YA science fiction texts makes use of the "category of the posthuman as the means for producing a new understanding of human selfhood and experience--one that emphasises the plurality and fragmentation of posthuman subjectivity" (Flanagan 3). Rick Yancey's young adult novels The 5th Wave (2013), The Infinite Sea (2014), and The Last Star (2016) undertake such a negotiation of the posthuman in relation to new and radical technology. Allowing readers to explore the "various possibilities for agency" resulting from technological progress, Yancey's series provides a discursive field from which readers can evaluate the ethical consequences of this change and assess "whether such technology acts to empower or disenfranchise child subjects" (Flanagan 5-6).

Yet, the books are also unusual in their approach towards the posthuman. Disguising their central premise of a humanity changed by technology behind an alien invasion story, the series follows a group of teenagers in their fight against an alien force referred to as "the Others." The aliens arrive on Earth in a large mothership and wage war on the population through several waves of mass destruction. Without establishing any physical presence on earth, the effects of their weapons are nonetheless ever clearly identifiable. The story begins after the third wave has already hit and decimated humanity to the point only a few scattered groups of survivors remain. The 1st Wave, a global EMP, killed all electronics, the 2nd Wave, giant tsunamis, wiped out coastal areas and drove survivors inland, and the 3rd Wave, a deadly virus spread by birds, killed 97 percent of the remaining human population. The central premise of the books centers on the 4th Wave--that is, on the introduction, within the human population, of aliens who look like humans, intruders in bodies indistinguishable from those of their prey. …

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