Currently I’m reading through the Wayward Pines Trilogy and have finished the first and second books. If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in these books, don’t read this review. It does contain spoilers.
These books are quick reads but are gripping and easy to get lost in. I can see why they made a tv program out of it (though I haven’t seen it). The author’s inspiration came from Twin Peaks, a show I loved, so I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve really enjoyed this series. It’s reminiscent of early X-Files, when the causes of unexplained phenomena weren’t always aliens, and were often far more sinister.
The first book, Pines, introduces us to Ethan Burke, a man who finds himself facing an absurd new reality in a town of psychopaths. Ethan is a secret service agent sent to Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of two other agents. The book starts when Ethan wakes up at the edge of town after a vehicle accident that left his partner dead. His phone, wallet and badge are all missing and no one believes his story. He quickly discovers he’s not allowed to leave town, and the townspeople will kill him if he tries to escape. If he does escape, he will most certainly be killed by the “abbies,” or aberrations that are kept out by a giant electric fence surrounding the town. These abbies, we discover at the end of book one, are what humans evolve into, and they are vicious, blood-thirsty monsters.
The town is run by megalomaniac billionaire, Pilcher, who, over several decades, kidnapped hundreds of people and put them in suspended animation (along with himself) for 2000 years. The idea was to beat time and re-start a human civilization thousands of years after evolution had done its damage. In order to keep the peace, no one is allowed to talk about their lives before Wayward Pines, to leave Wayward Pines, or to ask any questions or behave in any way that would suggest you don’t believe you have always been in Wayward Pines. Everyone, of course, remembers their lives before, but no one knows, until the end of the second book, why they are there, and no one is allowed to know the truth about what’s beyond the fence. If anyone breaks the rules, a fête is called and everyone in town gets dressed up and rips the offender limb from limb.
Of course, Ethan breaks all the rules, the town tries to kill him but he escapes, manages to evade a pack of abbies, infiltrate the compound where Pilcher and his faithful live, and for some reason Pilcher decides to call off the fête and make Ethan sheriff of Wayward Pines.
Ok, so I really can’t complain about the believability of any part of the plot for these books—they are sci-fi after all—but come on. I’m supposed to believe that a man like Pilcher, who had been so careful in planning that he was able to successfully get 1000 people to the other side of 2000 years, would suddenly drop his guard now and put a man in charge who had repeatedly tried to escape after several integration attempts, had broken every conceivable rule, and who very obviously disagreed with everything that Pilcher had done? That’s a little hard to swallow.
So, ok, plot holes. Oh well. At least the book is fast-paced and still has a way of making you want more. It’s no literary gem, but it’s an entertaining read, although quite dark and disturbing at times.
Book two, Wayward, starts about a week into his stint as Sheriff of Wayward Pines. Pilcher’s daughter is found brutally murdered. She was supposedly trying to infiltrate and expose a group called the Wanderers who take out their tracking microchips at night and run around town without fear of being spied on. The theory among Pilcher and his “faithful” is the Wanderers are gearing up for war, and to expose the truth. Pilcher says he tried the truth with the first group of people he thawed out, but they all fell into hopelessness and despair, and killed themselves. So, he says, it’s for everyone’s safety that that the truth is hidden, even though, ironically, he keeps it hidden by turning the citizens of Wayward Pines into murderous nut-jobs. Pilcher has Ethan investigate the murder of his daughter, Alyssa, steering him toward Kate, a former partner/lover of Ethan’s and a Wanderer. Ethan, of course, doesn’t believe Kate would murder anyone but he investigates anyway and finds that Pilcher, in fact, killed his own daughter with help from his right-hand psychopath, Pam. Book two ends when Ethan exposes the truth of the town’s origins, but not of Alyssa’s murder, to the entire town.
As much as these books draw me in, they also have a tendency to make me roll my eyes and think, “really?”. For example, Ted, the surveillance expert, told Ethan he had discovered that a group of people had figured out how to remove their microchips when he realized that the cameras, which turn on when they detect movement in microchips, stayed off all night long. If the chips were still implanted, natural movement during sleeping would have caused the cameras to turn on, but the microchips stayed 100% still all night long. Right after this, Ethan decides to remove his wife’s microchip (his had already been removed) so they could go somewhere else and have a real chat about the town. He leaves the microchip on the bedside table. No movement, no camera, this is the trigger that lets Pilcher’s crew know about the Wanderers… but somehow Ethan forgets this, and so do the people in Surveillance. Nothing comes of it. How convenient.
Despite the lack of an air-tight plot, the surrounding material is intriguing enough to keep it interesting. In book two they introduce a seemingly less violent and more intelligent “abby” that has been captured and is being tested and kept captive inside Pilcher’s bunker in the mountain. She’s stuck in a small room all day, being tested by scientists over and over, and she just sits in the corner of the room, all alone. I want to hear more about her. I want to find out if they are able to communicate with her, if she can bridge the gap between the human and the evolved human. But in the entire book she’s only mentioned twice. I felt like the author had a prime opportunity there to take these books beyond just sci-fi, and into something a little more thought-provoking and just a level or two deeper.
Every now and again the author draws parallels between the human race and what the human race evolves into. Evolution seems to have simply distilled the violence and hatred of humans into one deadly little package, but the rage and predatory aggression have always been there, and are present even in the humans stuck 2000 years out of their time.
The author describes a group of abbies teaching their children to hunt by bringing a wounded elk into the center of the pack, and sending in the children to finish it off—a practical play-by-play of what happened to a defector, Beverly, in Wayward Pines, not by the abbies, but by citizens. She was brought into the circle of people and they took turns coming forward and beating her over and over until she died, at which point they all rushed in, tearing her apart.
These books really do have quite a negative outlook on what humanity currently is, and where it’s headed. And it does bring up some good questions. Evolution is all about what is needed for survival; those qualities that are needed to survive in whatever elements we are surrounded by will be passed on genetically, while those qualities that do not lead to survival will be eliminated. So the question, to me, seems to be not, “what qualities will be necessary for our survival in the future,” but rather, “what qualities do we want to be necessary for our survival in the future?” If evolution takes direction from our surroundings, and if humans impact our surroundings more than any other force (and I believe we do), then we are in direct control of evolution, and therefore the traits that are considered by nature to be necessary for continued survival. And in that way, perhaps there is hope, if only we could all agree to impact the world around us in positive ways instead of with war and violence.
But that is not the route this series of books has taken. The abbies are killing machines, operating on instinct more than logic. The human race did not steer itself toward a path of peace, but stayed on the path of violence until there was no other way to be (and to me, it seems they had to have chosen this path, especially since there is nothing in that world that is dangerous enough to need such vicious attributes, like razor sharp talons instead of fingers or rows and rows of deadly teeth). Hopefully, though, the third book will see the return of the less violently inclined abby who was captured and kept in the mountain. Perhaps she still holds the key to saving the human race, both past and present versions (or is it present and future?).
I guess I’ll find out soon enough.