Either my calendar is stuck in a time warp or it’s Wednesday, which means it’s also Animorphs day! If you’re joining us for the first time, I strongly suggest you start at the first recap and go from there; from here on out, I won’t be stopping to explain basic concepts underpinning the series that I’ve already covered, so you’re likely to find yourself lost if you haven’t read the books yourself. You also won’t get all of the totally sweet recurring jokes I’m setting up, and that would be tragic.
Today we’ve got our first book from Marco’s point of view. As you may remember from previous posts, Marco is the wacky funster of the group. Here he is changing into a gorilla, which is a vast improvement on his ordinary ‘kid with a godawful 90′s hair style’ human form:
He’s also stuck in a cloud of purple toxic gas, I guess.
You can get some idea of Marco’s general outlook on life by checking out his introduction. (These things are more-or-less the same in each book, but usually convey some sense of the POV character’s personality – it’s a nice touch.)
My name is Marco.
I can’t tell you my last name or where I live. Believe me, I wish I could. I would like nothing more than to be able to tell you my name is Marco Jones or Williams or Vasquez or Brown or Anderson or McCain.
Marco McCain. Has kind of a nice sound, doesn’t it?
Marco’s dad must be pretty annoyed that he lost to Obama.
I kid, of course! Marco’s dad is actually a out of work and wracked by grief because Marco’s mom went missing, presumed drowned, some years before. In contrast to the fairly middle-class composition of the rest of the group, Marco is fairly poor. I remember appreciating that the first time I read through these: yes, the kids are fighting off a terrifying alien invasion, but they also have to deal with more mundane problems.
Case in point, the book opens with Marco rescuing an old man from some Saturday Morning Cartoon Thugs by morphing into a gorilla. Unfortunately, the old man repays his kindness by (understandably) panicking and trying to shoot him with one of the Cartoon Thugs’ gun. I would make a joke about plans yet again going wrong and certain people barely escaping with their lives, but I have a feeling I’ll be needing that one later…
The kids go to pay a visit to Ax, AKA Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthil, AKA that Andalite they saved in the previous book. Incidentally, if anyone out there has ever named one of their kids ‘Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthil’ because they’re a fan of these books and thought it would quote unquote ‘totally kick ass’, get in touch! And also get your kids to get in touch, assuming they left a forwarding address.
It turns out Ax wants to go back to his home world. Unfortunately, his home world is 82 light years away, which means it would take 82 years to get their at the speed of light or roughly one bajillion years to get there at any speed that wouldn’t result in a hefty fine from Einstein’s ghost. Luckily, Ax has a plan, which is why they’re going to see him.
I followed the direction of her gaze. Over toward the line of trees at the edge of the field, I saw him.
Wait, I think I used that image prematurely.
<The higher the danger, the higher the honor,> Ax said. <Is this not true?>
I gave Rachel a sidelong look. “I think we’ve found your future husband.”
The ‘danger’ Ax is referring to here is his plan to steal a Yeerk spaceship. As you can see, he’s also a bit uptight at this point – kind of like a four-legged Klingon, actually.
In order to summon a Yeerk ship to hijack, Ax plans on building a Yeerk distress signal. Apparently you can do this with off-the-shelf components from Radio Shack (do those even exist any more?), prompting a trip to the mall and lots of wacky hijinks as Ax tries to get used to odd human concepts like ‘walking on two legs’ and ‘having a mouth’. He goes missing two minutes into the daring Radio Shack raid, prompting this weird exchange:
“Over at Starbucks. The coffee place.”
Was…was there a time when you had to clarify that Starbucks is a ‘coffee place’? Because I’m not sure my worldview can accommodate that kind of insanity.
Anyway, Ax orders a coffee and is introduced to the electrifying world of tastebuds. And is it just me, or is there a scene later on where he goes nuts for cinnamon swirls? I’m almost certain that’s a thing that happens. (Update from two paragraphs in the future: actually it’s ‘sticky buns’, and he goes around eating off people’s tables at the food court.)
Ax finally gets to Radio Shack and buys the human equivalent of a gairtmof and a fleer, which I’m assuming is Andalite for ‘doohicky’ and ‘thingamabob’. All he needs to finish the distress beacon is a Z-Space Transponder, but alas, Radio Shack is all sold out of inter-dimensional communication relays. See, it turns out Yeerk and Andalite ships don’t travel through ordinary space. No, they travel through Z space, which is basically another dimension where two points in ordinary space can be closer together and thus easier to get to.
And man, I’m running up against my wordcount limit here, so I’ll have to skip the hilarious bit where they escape from Controllers by turning into lobsters, only a woman buys them from the tank and tries to cook them but then they demorph and almost give her a heart attack. You’ll just have to imagine the kinds of witty remarks I would have made about it.
Anyway, Ax still needs a Z-Space dealie, so the kids come up with a plan to steal one from Chapman’s house. This would involves turning into ants, leading to what will be referred to throughout the rest of the series as ‘the ant incident’. It turns out they’re not quite prepared for the effects of a colony insect, so when they morph into ants, they all instantly lose themselves to the ant mind. They manage to get a grip, just barely, but the experience is pretty psychologically draining.
And boy, is it going to get worse!
They make it into Chapman’s house and demorph. Ax is able to read the documents on his Yeerk space-computer (I’m picturing one of those Alienware laptops), and reveals that Visser One is coming to visit. Visser One is, as the name would imply, Visser Three’s boss. Ax briefly mentions that Visser One has a human host, a fact which will have no significance whatsoever for the remainder of this book. No siree, not at all.
The kids get the iPhone 4Z and start to leave in ant morph, but are attacked by ants from a rival colony. And here’s where things start to go downhill pretty fast:
I could feel my waist being sawed through by grinding sharp mandibles.
A searing liquid was fired at me. Poison. They were stinging me. Stinging me again and again, and ripping me apart.
Human. I wanted to be human again. Please, just let me live long enough to become human again!
They barely make it out alive (all together now!), only demorphing in the nick of time. For obvious reasons, they decide never to turn into ants again. The next day, Marco starts wondering if they’ll eventually go insane from having one too many bad experiences fighting the Yeerks. (Man, he’s not going to like the second half of the series…) He thinks about his dad, who had something of a nervous breakdown after his mother’s death, and decides that he’s had enough of fighting the Yeerks:
“One of these days we aren’t going to pull it off, you know? Ten more seconds and those ants would have had us. And before that it was a pot of boiling water. And before that I was practically killed by sharks. I mean, come on. Enough is enough.”
“You’re right,” Jake said.
“But I’ll tell you one thing, Jake. A year from now I don’t want my dad going to leave flowers at two graves.”
If you’re thinking this is pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s series…well, just wait. We’ll be getting into neutron-star heaviness by the time we get to the last few books!
(The first person who feels the need to remind me that neutron stars aren’t ‘heavy’ will be instantly banned from commenting. DO NOT CROSS THE ACADEMY.)
The kids go and activate the transmitter, but wouldn’t you know it, the Yeerks guessed what was going on and set a trap. The Animorphs are all captured and brought aboard a Yeerk ship in orbit (while still in morph, obviously – the Yeerks don’t find out that they’re really human). Visser Three decides to show them off in front of his visiting boss, and wouldn’t you know it, Visser One is Marco’s mom! Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
I remember being completely floored by this little revelation when I was a kid, possibly because the ‘tragic dead parent’ trope doesn’t usually end up with said dead parent being controlled by an evil alien mind slug. It also leads to some nice character development, since Jake is the only one who recognises Marco’s mom and agrees to keep it a secret from the others.
Luckily, Visser One hates Visser Three (and who can blame her…uh, or him, I guess – do Yeerks have different sexes?), so she sends some of her personal guards to break the Animorphs out in order to ruin his reputation. They manage to escape, just barely, and Marco vows to keep fighting the Yeerks for as long as it takes to free his mother. The book ends with Marco’s dad deciding to pull himself together and get on with his life.
Well, that was all more somber than I remembered! And if I have the series order correctly, there’s an even more depressing volume coming up next time! Check back in a week for my recap of Animorphs #6: The Capture.