If this is your first time dipping into the Animorphs Re-Read, I strongly suggest you head back to the beginning and start there unless you’re already familiar with the books. Alternatively, check out our new and improved Animorphs Re-Read index for a list of every post in the series.
I see everyone survived last week’s bout of ghostwriting. Excellent! Today’s offering isn’t ghostwritten, at least according to Wikipedia, but it still stands out by virtue of featuring the best illustration in the history of science fiction. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.
The Animorphs fandom seems to be of two minds about the more space opera-ish aspects of the series. Some people like all of the Ellimist-as-cosmic-puppetmaster stuff, while others feel that it’s just a distraction from the far more interesting story of aliens invading the Earth. I’m sort of in the middle; I like the Ellimist elements (see what I did there) when they directly support the main plot, but I’m not as fond of them when they start taking center stage. In The Attack, they take center stage.
As does this phenomenal illustration:
Goddamn. Where do I even start?
I haven’t mentioned the illustrations up to this point, mostly because my editions of the books never had them and they carry no nostalgic weight for me, but this one demands to be talked about. It demands to be examined, to be appreciated, to have articles published about it in respectable journals of art criticism. Just look at it. You’ve got everyone in morph except for Ax because why wouldn’t you want a big blue centaur in there, there are some sort of lego towers in the background, and everyone’s attacking a guy made of magma.The fact that Rachel is hilariously short for a grizzly bear on its hind legs is just the icing on the cake. Scale? WHO NEEDS SCALE WHEN YOU’VE GOT MAGMA PEOPLE. Oh, and Tiger-Jake in the illustration is copy-pasted from Tiger-Jake on the cover, which just makes the only thing even better.
Lest you doubt the sincerity of my love for this work of artistic genius, let me reiterate that I am totally serious here. This thing is gloious, and I will personally write a thank-you sonnet to whoever can hook me up with a framed copy.
But I should probably talk about the rest of the book now.
(Oh god I just realised Magma Guy has Wolerine claws.)
The book kicks off with Jake dreaming about the time he saw that big weird alien thing in book 6, when the Yeerk in his head was dying:
A creature. Or a machine. Some combination of both. It had no arms. It sat still, as if it were bolted down, on a throne that was miles high. It could not move, and yet the power that flowed from it was like a hurricane of energy.
Say what you will about this stuff, the description of Crayak is pretty cool. (Also that thing is called Crayak. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that yet.)
The plot begins shortly after this. The kids are at a showing of The Lion King (the stage one, not the movie one) when the Ellimist appears in his usual you-weren’t-doing-anything-important-anyway style by freezing time. Instead of appearing in his usual form, he shows up as Beth, one of their classmates:
“I have chosen this form for a reason,” the Ellimist said in the girl’s voice. “I come today on a humble mission. I wanted a humble form. One that would not evoke feelings of dread or awe or reverence from you.”
Well, someone’s got a high opinion of themselves.
Rather than being all mysterious, the Ellimist tells them a bit more about his species: they were the first sentient species in the galaxy, they developed faster-than-light travel when multi-cellular life was just getting started on Earth, and they advanced to the level of near-omnipotence while the dinosaurs were still kicking around. At some point, they became aware of another being capable of challenging them, one who was apparently chased out of its own galaxy by something even more powerful again. (See what I meant about space opera?) This would be Crayak.
Crayak’s plan is to whittle our galaxy down to a single sentient species, which he will then control. After that he’ll move on to other galaxies, until something something controlling space-time something something powerful enough to kill whatever kicked him out of his own galaxy in the first place. It’s kind of vague, but whatever. He’s bad news.
The Ellimist explains that he and Crayak once fought openly, in the process destroying a tenth of the galaxy. Doing that again didn’t seem like the best idea in the world, so they now wage war by proxy, using various species against each other. You will be unsurprised to learn that the Yeerk’s are part of Crayak’s plans, while humans are unknowingly on the side of the Ellimist.
Their latest fight involves the Iskoort (who we saw back in The Andalite Chronicles) being attacked by the Howlers, who you might remember as the species that wiped out the Pemalites, who created the Chee.(Is it just me, or is this getting slightly convoluted?) The fate of the Iskoort is going to be decided by a Hunger Games-esque fight between two groups of champions: the Animorphs on one side, and seven Howlers on the other. Oh, except there are only six Animorphs, so they recruit Erek as well.
Jake tells them about his Crayak-dreams, saying that he knows it sounds crazy. Marco responds thusly:
“Uh, Jake?” Marco said. “We’ve been over the line into crazy since Elfangor said, ‘Hey, kids, wanna turn into animals?’”
The kids instantly get transported to the Iskoort homeworld. The Ellimist promises them that nobody on Earth will realize they’re gone…unless they die. Which is a distinct possibility, since the Howlers are apparently unbeatable.
Let’s talk about the Iskoort planet for a minute.
First of all, it does indeed feature massive towers and platforms made of ‘brilliantly colored blocks’, so I feel justified in referring to it as Legoland from here on out. The Iskoort themselves are obsessed with buying and selling things. As soon as the Animorphs arrive, they have to fend off a series of bizarre offers for everything from their memories to…uh, the right to implant some sort of larva into their bodies.
This is fairly similar to an alien culture in Robert A. Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, which has a species whose etiquette is based around exchanging gifts. If I remember correctly, they even favoured a kind of open-plan architecture similar to the platforms and towers of the Iskoort.
My point is that K.A. Applegate is damn good at this space opera stuff. Some of the alien species in the series are pretty fascinating, which is why I think it would be wrong to dismiss that aspect of the books as just a distraction or a gimmick. It’s clear that she put some real thought into it.
Anyway, they get an Iskoort guide (whose name is ‘Guide’) and eventually run into a Howler, which proceeds to kick their asses. They’re called ‘Howlers’ because they can emit a sound so loud that it makes it impossible for their prey to focus on anything else. They’re also ridiculously fast and strong, and have a lot of nasty weapons. Whee!
Jake almost dies, but the others get him out before he bleeds to death. Guide, the Iskoort guide who is guiding them (because he is a guide), offers to sell them Howler memories by uploading them into Erek. In exchange, they agree to give him their own memories of the fights with the Howlers afterwards, which will apparently be enough to make Guide rich. Erek reveals that the Howlers have never been defeated, and that they were originally created by Crayak as a kind of species-cleansing effort.
They escape from another attack, and then we get this little tidbit about Iskoort physiology:
<Long ago, yes,> Guide acknowledged. <But what began as a parasitic relationship has become a truly symbiotic one. We function as a single creature. The two parts, halves, only separate every three days, when the Yoort must feed by swimming in the Yoort pool and absorbing ->
That sounds familiar, somehow.
Guide goes on to explain that the Yoort biologically engineered truly symbiotic hosts; not only can the Isk not live without a Yoort, but they modified themselves so that Yoort can no longer live without an Isk host, thus ending the need for them to conquer other species. Obviously, this has some pretty huge implications for the Yeerks, since even the peaceful ones can’t imagine any way of removing the need for them to infest other species.
This was why Crayak had to destroy the Iskoort. And why the Ellimist couldn’t allow it. Someday, maybe far in the future, Iskoort would meet Yeerk. And the Yeerks would see that there was another way.
I do believe I hear the sound of a penny dropping.
They get into another fight, and Jake manages to knock one of the Howlers off a tower. He follows it down in bird morph, acquires it, then remorphs just before it hits the ground. So that’s one down…six more to go. Tobias leads Jake back to the others, AND THEN:
Cassie jumped into my arms and I wrapped her up tight and before I knew it I was kissing her on her lips and she was kissing me back.
“It’s about time,” Rachel grumbled.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Anyway, to cut a long story short because this post is going to be gigantic if I’m not careful, Jake morphs the Howler and realises that the Howlers were engineered to think that all their killing is just some sort of game. They also have a collective memory, which leads to an obvious opportunity: Jake and the others use some Iskoort ‘memory players’ to force their memories into the Howlers. This would mean that every Howler would realize their prey are other living creatures, rendering them useless. In order to stop that from happening, Crayak destroys his own team, making the whole thing a win for the Ellimist.
Jake has another mind-meeting with Crayak, who threatens revenge at some point in the future. In response, Jake morphs into the Howler again and searches their collective memory. He comes to the conclusion that Crayak must be destroying any Howlers who are defeated before their memories can taint the others’, thus leaving them with what looks like an endless string of victories. Just before the Ellimist brings them back to a kind of n-dimensional staging ground, Jake realizes that the memory of him and Cassie making out got transmitted to the Howlers. LOVE WILL SAVE THE DAY and so forth.
Everyone returns home, and Jake tries to put aside the memory of the Howler he killed falling to its death:
Marco’s always saying you choose how to see the world. That you can look at what’s funny and cool, or you can focus on all the things that aren’t.
So I tried to follow Marco’s advice. I tried to turn my dreams to Cassie.
But even looking into her eyes, I still saw that doomed Howler falling.
This is actually some pretty effective foreshadowing, if you know how the ending of the series goes down.
So there we have it! I think this is as space opera as the series ever gets, and it holds up better than I remember. Crayak and the Ellimist aren’t particularly interesting, but the Iskoort certainly are. I hope we’ll get to see a bit more of them.
Of course, The Attack will no doubt go down in Animorphs Re-Read history for giving us the greatest work of SF art ever to grace the internet. Shall we look at it again? Yes, I think we shall.
Join me next time for the first part of The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, which I’m really looking forward to reading.