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.
Last week I covered The Attack, which features what is undoubtedly the greatest piece of science fiction artwork ever put to paper. Today I’m starting The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, which also features an excellent piece of artwork! It’s also one of the more interesting entries in the series for a whole host of other reasons, all of which I’ll be getting to in due time.
But first, that artwork:
As you’ve probably deduced by now, The Hork-Bajir Chronicles is about the enslavement of the Hork-Bajir by the Yeerks. SF books that focus exclusively on alien characters are surprisingly rare, especially ones aimed at kids, but I think the above image sums up by fascination with the idea. There’s something strangely compelling about a scene with no convenient human stand-in for the reader to anchor themselves to. Plus I’m a complete sucker for alien skylines, so that helps.
Let’s get started, shall we?
My name is Tobias.
I was restless. Don’t ask me why, I just was. So I flew.
All right, so the book isn’t completely devoid of human characters. Tobias narrates the prologue and epilogue, I guess since he’s more enmeshed in the wider mythology of the series than any other character. He flies over the free Hork-Bajir colony and gets into a conversation with one of the Hork-Bajir kids, who decides to tell him the story of how his species first encountered the Yeerks.
Andalite date: year 8561.Z
Yeerk date: Generation 685, mid-cycle
Hork-Bajir date: early-warm
Earth date: 1966
So I also really love alien calendars. Like, what does ‘mid-cycle’ mean? And ‘early-warm’? My curiosity is thoroughly piqued. I do find it strange that all of this is happening in 1966, though. The way everyone talked about the Hork-Bajir being enslaved by theYeerks, I figured it had happened much further back.
Anyway, let’s meet our primary viewpoint character:
My name is Aldrea-lskillion-Falan. I am an Andalite. A female.
That was all there was to say about me back then. But later I became much more. My name became a cruel joke among my people. And later still, a curse.
But when this story began, I was just a young female. Just Aldrea. Not yet the Aldrea.
I do believe this is the first female Andalite in the entire series. I think Ax might have spoken to his mother at some point, but I don’t remember if she even got any lines.
Alloran describes an encounter between Prince Seerow (remember him?) and Alloran (before he became Visser Three, and before he went on an ill-fated journey with Elfangor to the Taxxon homeworld). Aldrea shows them a holographic recording of a group of Yeerk-infested Gedds murdering a squad of Andalite soldiers, marking the first time the Yeerks became hostile to their unwitting benefactors…
…which means that the Yeerks have been rampaging around the galaxy for less than forty years. Again, I would have assumed it had been going on for much longer than that given how entrenched they are. I suspect this may have been something of a retcon, since the entire premise of this book depends on the Hork-Bajir in the free colony being the grandchildren of some of the Hork-Bajir in Aldrea’s story.
Seerow reacts with predictable dismay to the recording:
The hologram flickered off.
Prince Seerow slumped, his upper body leaning forward, his four legs appearing weak, as he absorbed the awful truth.
Prince Seerow, whose name was to become a curse word and a joke.
He was my father.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. Man, talk about being cursed with a sucky family.
Alloran goes on to reveal that the Yeerks hijacked several Andalite ships, loaded them up with Yeerks and then took off into Z-Space. It’s kind of funny to think that the mighty Yeerk empire began with a bunch of mind-controlled alien monkeys stealing a few ships, but there you go. Seerow is distraught over all of this. He protests that the Yeerk leaders were his friends, and you really get a sense of just how horrifically his good intentions have blown up in his face.
Alloran relieves Seerow of duty, in the process coining the term ‘Seerow’s Kindness’. You could argue that he’s being a bit of a dick here, but I really don’t think that’s how we’re supposed to read it. He just watched his soldiers get slaughtered, after all, and it kind of makes sense to call Seerow’s leadership into question given how colossally huge a mistake it ended up being to give the Yeerks advanced technology.
Aldrea runs outside, not wanting to watch her father’s disgrace.
I could not watch anymore. I ran outside, unnoticed by the adults. I ran outside into the Yeerk twilight. The wild green and yellow-streaked sky was turning dark.
The harsh air rasped in my throat. Soon the nightly rain, the acid rain, would fall and I would have to retreat back into the shelter.
Sounds like a nice place!
The ‘Yeerk Peace and Cooperation Center’ is already becoming a defensive fortress in preparation for the Andalite’s emergency departure. Aldrea says that she had never liked the planet or its inhabitants, and is clearly already bitter that they’ve inadvertently destroyed her father’s reputation.
We cut to 1968, or Andalite Year 8563.5, Yeerk Date Generation 686, Early-Cycle, Hork-Bajir Date Late-Cool. Aldrea is an outcast among the other Andalites, both because of her father’s reputation and because of her desire to become a warrior:
You see, I’m not like most females. I’m not content to stay within the sciences and the arts, the traditional female occupations. I don’t want to be a Zero-space theorist or a grass-scape designer or a cloud artist.
I want to be a warrior. I want to fight the Yeerks.
I know what everyone says: Females are not born to be warriors. We have smaller tail blades. More like scalpels than like the great, curved scythes our brothers have.
So for all their talk of enlightenment, the Andalites are still pretty big on traditional gender roles. I’d keep a running tally of the amount of times we learn unpleasant things about them during the course of this book, but I’m not sure my computer can store numbers that large. (Also now I kind of want to be a ‘cloud artist’. That sounds like it would kick ass.)
Aldrea points out that fighting the Yeerks wouldn’t involve using her tail blade, since they have these things called ‘space ships’ and ‘orbital bombs’ and oh yeah, morphing technology:
Besides, with the very recent invention of morph-ing technology, we can fight using any number of physical bodies. And many studies have shown that females are actually superior when it comes to morphing.
I’m imagining a conservative Andalite pundit somewhere railing against those liberal ‘scientists’ with their biased ‘studies’ saying that female Andalites are better at morphing. Just picture Glenn Beck’s head on an Andalite’s body!
Aldrea and her family (including her slightly obnoxious brother) arrive at the planet where Seerow has been stationed. It turns out to be a mostly-lifeless rock – except for the incredibly deep valleys at its equator, which are filled with gigantic trees. Once again, I’d like to point out that K.A. Applegate is surprisingly good at this whole ‘science fiction’ business.
Aldrea’s mother, a biologist, thinks this is the most awesome planet ever thanks to its super-trees. Seerow is somewhat less enthusiastic about the whole thing, but tries to appear upbeat for everyone else’s sake.
Four crew members began unloading our supplies and equipment. And I stepped out for the first time on the planet that was merely called Sector 5, RG-21578-4.
RG meant red giant. That was the type of sun at the center of this system. The dash-four meant this was the fourth planet from that sun.
SCIENCE FICTION. Man, I hope Applegate does a proper space opera series sometime. That would kick ass.
The next chapter switches viewpoint to Dak Hamee, a Hork-Bajir ‘seer’. Being a seer in this case just means being much more intelligent than most other Hork-Bajir – you may remember that the kidnapped Hork-Bajir girl from The Pretender was a seer as well. Dak Hamee describes his frustration at being one of the very few Hork-Bajir able to understand abstract concepts like writing or art.
So, the Hork-Bajir have a sort of quasi-religion based on their ecosystem. They talk about ‘Father Deep’, which is where the atmosphere in the equator-valley gets so thick that it becomes opaque (I will be amazed if Aldrea and Dak Hamee don’t go down there before this book is over), and ‘Mother Sky’, which is…er, the sky. Remember, they live entirely in that gigantic valley, so their world really does consist of ‘below’ and ‘above’. Dak Hamee sees something descending from the sky one day, and takes it as a sign that Mother Sky is calling him for some unknown purpose. He goes to investigate and comes across the Seerow family and their ship.
He makes first contact, and becomes convinced that he has finally discovered his purpose in life:
Suddenly, I knew that my waiting was over. This was the new thing I had been created for.
This was what I had to understand, so that I could show my people the way.
This was why Father Deep and Mother Sky had made me a seer.
I’m sure that will work out happily for everyone.
That’s it for the first part of the re-read, which involved a lot more quoting than usual. The next part is where the plot really kicks off. I was looking forward to the Hork-Bajir Chronicles because I’d never read it before, and I’m happy to say that it’s living up to my expectations. As always, it’s a real treat when Applegate gets to stretch her creative muscles beyond what the series would usually allow. In hindsight, I’d much rather have more of this kind of thing and less of the Ellimist/Crayak conflict, which can get a bit stale in large doses.
Come back next week for part two, in which the Yeerks arrive and proceed to ruin everybody’s day!