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.
First of all, apologies for not doing a re-read post last week. I was really really sick on Wednesday and Thursday, and then I had a review due on Friday. I have failed to fulfill my duties as High Priest of the Church of Applegate, and will be engaging in appropriate acts of penitence over the next few days.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to another ghostwritten book. K.A. Applegate’s Co-Pilot for Animorphs #28: The Experiment was one Amy Garvey. A quick Google search suggests that Garvey is still writing, although I don’t want to link to what is possibly her blog because a) it might not be her and b) she might think I’m some sort of stalker weirdo.
I’ve complained about some of the problems that crop up in the ghostwritten books before, and almost all of them are present in The Experiment. While the prose itself is mostly okay, the plotting and characterisation is sub-standard at best. There’s very little ‘B plot’ in evidence despite the book being narrated by Ax (whose POV books usually involve some major developments in the series’ mythology), the threat facing the Animorphs is pedestrian in the extreme, and Erek once again acts as a plot delivery vector.
But I can forgive all of that because of the book’s incredible cover art:
I love everything about it. Everything. I love the way Ax’s head goes all weird and misshapen in the middle stages of the morph. I love how his stalk eyes slowly shrink down to nothing. I love the weird rainbow filter that makes the whole thing look like it’s supposed to be some sort of drug trip. I love the fact that it’s Ax turning into a cow. Best Animorphs cover ever? YES, I THINK SO.
Anyway, let’s get on with the boring-ass plot. Ax is frolicking around with Tobias (bromance forever) when Marco comes along and does that humour thing he’s so fond of. Ax explains that he is
a Vulcan an Andalite and thus cannot understand the human concept known as humour, and then adds this little note:
It is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.
‘Andalite readers’? What, is this being transmitted across the universe? For that matter, when and where are the kids supposed to be writing all of this stuff? They address the reader often enough that they’re a clear ‘character as author’ conceit going on, but we’re never told when they’re doing it all. I guess they could be doing it after the point where the series ends, but that would be kind of difficult given what happens in the last book. Especially for…uh, certain characters.
(No spoilers in the comments, please!)
Ax changes into his human morph, then goes with Marco to meet Erek – who is using his hologram to disguise himself as a FedEx truck. Wait, I’ve just had a brilliant idea: I’m going to write a series of books about a group of kids who can transform into inanimate objects. I’ll call it Inanimorphs. Scholastic, if you’re reading this, I will absolutely take payment in the form of wheelbarrows filled with cash.
Erek the FedEx Truck tells them that the Yeerks have taken over a meatpacking plant and associated animal testing lab, and are most likely doing something shady with them. That means it’s Mission O’ Clock! Jake decides that they should infilitrate the lab to see what’s what, which prompts some really awkward moralising from Cassie. This is one of those ghostwritten books where the ghostwriter seems to have been basing every line of dialogue they wrote on a D&D style character sheet – Cassie has the ‘Tree-hugging’ attribute, therefore she gets mad about animal testing. Marco has +5 humor, so he makes really bad jokes all the time. Ax is an Alien, so he gets a deduction to his Comprehension stat. The problem is that Cassie engages in a very particular type of moralising, just like Marco engages in a very particular kind of humor, and it all feels just a little bit off in The Experiment.
But enough complaining (for now). The kids need to acquire chimpanzees to get into the animal testing lab, so they break into a truck transporting some of said chimpanzees. The whole scene is actually pretty cool and would probably look great in a movie, seeing as how it involves fast-moving vehicles and tunnels and RACES AGAINST TIME.
With the chimpanzee DNA safely loaded into their Z-Space arsenal, the kids release the chimpanzees themselves. Ax morphs first, and is disturbed by the complexity of the chimpanzee’s mind. He starts to worry that the chimp he acquired may have been sentient or borderline-sentient, which would be really interesting if not for the fact that Marco has been morphing a gorilla for the entire series without ever worrying about the ethics of it. I mean, I know chimpanzees are closer to humans in evolutionary terms, but still. You’d think this would have come up before.
The kids get over their moral qualms and all morph chimpanzees, then get brought to the animal testing lab. Visser Three appears (of course), so the kids throw chimpanzee poop at him as a distraction. So, let’s see, the mighty Visser Three has been defeated by skunk stink and chimp poop. How does he still have his job, again?
He orders the nearby Controllers to kill all of the chimpanzees, but the kids manage to escape by wounding a Taxxon and triggering a feeding frenzy. Ax is disturbed by the whole idea of medical testing on animals, since Andalites don’t do anything comparable. I was all set to call BS on this until he brings up the fact that Andalites are herbivores, which I guess makes it more justifiable – if they never killed other animals to eat them, it would presumably be more difficult to imagine using them for medical testing or what have you.
The next day, they decide to infiltrate the meatpacking facility by morphing into steers. Ax and Tobias go off to acquire themselves some bovine, which leads to this line from Tobias:
<That was easy,> Tobias said a moment later. <l am cow-capable.>
There’s some pointless faffing about, and then Ax and Tobias begin Operation Beef. The plan is for them to morph into steer so that the others can hide in their nostrils in fly morph and bypass the Gleet Biofilter, which you may remember from one of the earlier books. Basically, it’s a thing that destroys any lifeforms unless they’ve been approved to pass through it. Tobias and Ax both morph, but oh no, Ax has accidentally acquired a female cow!
You are now picturing Ax with an udder. You’re welcome.
And right here is what’s wrong with the ghostwritten books. You’d think the Ax-acquires-a-cow thing would be an important part of the plot given that it’s on the cover and everything. It could have caused things to go wrong, necessitating an unexpected change in plans. But no, it’s dealt with in a singe sentence:
I demorphed. I acquired a steer. This time I checked. I morphed again.
And it’s a badly written sentence at that. This kind of thing is a recurring problem in the ghostwritten books, and it’s only going to get worse from here.
They get inside the meat place and discover a bunch of humans in bio-stasis. Ax comes across a Yeerk computer, which helpfully tells him (as in literally tells him) what the place is being used for:
It replied in a simulated human voice. “Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”
“Project Obedience is designed to use genetically engineered biological components to erase those portions of the human brain responsible for freewill.”
Wait, there was a ‘Taxxon rebellion’?
Oh, and the Yeerks were trying to remove human freewill. I guess that’s bad.
Or it would have been, except that they find out immediately afterwards that the project didn’t work. There was never any risk of the Yeerks using the lab for anything. The entire book was pointless.
Yeah. But hey, at least we got that cover art!
Join me next time for my re-read of Animorphs #29: The Sickness, in which…wait. Hold the phone. Is that Cassie morphing into a Yeerk? Could this be another great entry in the ‘Cassie confronts moral dilemmas’ sub-series? Could it be a stunning return to form for Animorphs? Could it wash away the taint of a boring-ass cow plot that goes nowhere?
The Sickness is the twenty-ninth book in the Animorphs series, authored by K.A. Applegate. It is known to have been ghostwritten by Melinda Metz. It is narrated by Cassie.
ghostwritten by Melinda Metz
I wouldn’t get your hopes up.