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.
After a break last week, I’m back with Animorphs #32: The Separation. There’s no ghostwriter this time, because The Separation is the last book from here until #53 to be written by K.A. Applegate herself. Clearly, it will be a tour de force of the series’ greatest strengths, an oasis of quality in the barren desert of crap that is the ghostwritten oh my god just look at the cover.
So, uh, this is kind of awkward. After a string of fairly-good-to-brilliant ghostwritten books (punctuated by two or three truly bad ones), Applegate returns with…this.
It’s certainly not the worst book so far (that honor is divided between the cow book and the one that inflicts the Helmacrons on the world), but it’s also not great. Actually it’s kind of stupid. Kind of really stupid. True, it does something interesting with the narration, but the entire plot hinges on a concept that manages to be egregiously unscientific even for a series about kids who can absorb DNA through their skin.
The book opens with Rachel abruptly setting up a plot hook for later: according to the Chee, the Yeerks are working on an ‘anti-morphing ray’, which the Animorphs will eventually have to destroy. And man, get a load of the writing here:
There would be more of that real soon. We’d been informed by our android allies the Chee that the Yeerks were at work on a secret new weapon: an Anti-Morphing Ray. We didn’t know enough, yet, to launch an attack. But attack we would. And then there’d be the leaping and screaming and bleeding.
I’m guessing this was around the point where Applegate and her husband were working on more books per month than most writers manage in several years, because some of the narration is preeeetty rough. I’ll have a few more highlights later.
Rachel makes some cogent observations about microbiology and then drops her earring into a tide pool. The best idea she can come up to get it out is to acquire and morph a starfish – you know, an animal that’s blind, deaf and possesses only a limited ability to move under its own volition. She even points out how bad an idea this is, but happily does it anyway, putting us squarely into Idiot Ball territory.
Predictably, something goes wrong: a kid cuts her in half with a shovel. Whoops.
At this point I should highlight the fact that starfish are really awesome. They’ve got almost every kind of sexual reproduction in the animal kingdom covered (boring old regular sex, two different kinds of hermaphroditism and asexual reproduction), and they can regenerate lost limbs. If they possessed biological immortality as well, they’d probably be the most interesting things in the sea.
The Separation takes all that interesting biology and uses it to craft the most obvious plot imaginable: Rachel gets in half and then demorphs, so there are now two Rachels. Because, like, both halves of the starfish demorph independently. That’s not the stupid part of the whole thing, though. I mean, I can buy the idea that both halves of the starfish’s nervous system could independently trigger the demorphing instinct (let’s not even ask how a creature with no brain can support a human mind in the first place). No, the stupid part is that Rachel gets divided into ‘Good Rachel’ and ‘Evil Rachel’.
The book tries to hide this for a while by not letting on that it’s switching viewpoints between ‘timid, friendly Rachel’ and ‘murderous, borderline-psychotic Rachel’ (she talks non-stop about killing people), but it’s pretty obvious even if you haven’t read the blurb. And I have to say, the writing gets really, really bad here. Just look:
I hooked up with Tobias at his meadow.
He saw me coming and swept down out of the sky, fierce, wild, a thing of dangerous beauty.
<Hi, Rachel. Hear anything from Jake about the mission?>
“I haven’t seen Jake. Don’t worry, he’ll get word to us if there’s killing to be done. Ha! Anti-Morphing Ray! You have to admire the Yeerks: They never stop trying. They never stop trying to take us down! Now, let’s fly!”
“He’ll get word to us if there’s killing to be done”? Does that sound like something Rachel would say? Hell, does that sound like something anyone would say?
Evulz Rachel goes on a complete power trip as soon as she morphs, which would be slightly more in character if it didn’t come across as hilariously cheesy. After flying around for a while, she catches a fish and rips out its still-beating heart, which she then gleefully swallows.
There are some genuinely embarassing scenes of Timid Rachel being timid and Evil Rachel threatening to murder random people, and then everyone figures out what’s going on just in time to save the book from being a complete write-off. Marco makes a surprisingly crass joke about him and Tobias having ‘one Rachel each’, which prompts Kill-Stab Rachel to do a mid-air somersault kick into his chest. Apparently getting cut in half turned Rachel’s violent side into the main character of the Resident Evil movies.
Erek shows up to exposit, and we get the following exchange:
“I can’t stay long,” Erek said, unable to stop looking from me to Mean Rachel and back again. “I just came to update you guys on the mission.”
“To the Yeerk pool!” Mean Rachel crowed. “Let’s get some flamethrowers!”
“I gotta stop hanging around with you people,” Erek said. “You people are just plain strange.”
Did I say the writing was kind of bad earlier? Because I was wrong - now it’s kind of bad.
But Erek does mention something interesting: the Yeerks have bought a consumer research institute as a front, which they use to boost sales for the other companies they own. This really reinforces the fact that the Yeerks don’t just try to control the bodies of the species they want to conquer – they also try to control their societies, and to do that they need money.
Jake decides that the Rachels shouldn’t come on the mission to destroy the anti-morphing ray, for obvious reasons. Cartoon-Villain Rachel decides to go along anyway because it will give her a chance to kill people, while Timid/Irrational Rachel decides that she’s going to tell her dad about the Yeerks and the Animorphs and all that. She also does that thing I always see in American media where characters call their fathers’ “Daddy” despite being in their teens, which I will never not find weird.
Bloodthirsty-Rachel overhears a conversation where the rest of the kids try to work out what to do with her. She doesn’t take it well, forcing Jake to sucker punch her so the others have a chance to restrain her. (Interestingly, punching her in the face does not immediately knock her unconscious, which is contrary to both children’s media logic and the precedence set by the series so far.)
Milla Jovovich-Rachel finds out that Timid-Rachel is going to meet their dad, so she decides to get to the airport first so she can kill him. For, er, some reason. Part of the whole gimmick is that the Rachels aren’t just ‘good’ and ‘evil’, they’re also ‘only good at long-term planning’ and ‘only good at short-term reactions’, respectively. It doesn’t make the whole thing any less ridiculous.
Short Term-Rachel manages to get their dad to herself (but changes her mind about killing him), so Long Term-Rachel goes back to the others to figure out what to do. Jake convinces her to go on the mission to the consumer institute with them, with the Chee doing their usual thing of pretending to be the kids while they’re gone. This prompts a pretty good joke from Marco:
Marco groaned. “I hate it when we do that. The Chee who plays me always cleans my room. I can never find anything!”
I think it’s moments like this where the series’ humor really shines through. They’re getting alien robots to impersonate them for extended periods of time, and Marco’s chief concern is that his particular alien robot will move his stuff around. I guess at some point you’d have to either roll with things or go completely insane, which is why jokes like this really work.
Spineless-Rachel and Jake go on the mission, but the whole thing is a setup. They get knocked out and placed in boxes (still in morph, obviously). Killer-Rachel is following them, luckily enough, and murders her way through some Hork-Bajir to get to them. They all get trapped in a room where the walls slowly close in, which means that Visser Three has become a full-blown children’s cartoon villain. Jake is apparently dead, leaving the Rachels to work together to get out alive.
Strategist-Rachel hits upon a surprisingly effective plan: she gets the other Rachel to morph into a fly and go into Visser Three’s ear canal, then threatens to demorph inside his head and kill them both unless he lets them leave. Which he does, because I guess even Visser Three is vulnerable to having his head exploded from the inside.
It turns out Jake isn’t actually dead (surprise). He just wanted the Rachels to work together and learn the true meaning of
friendship sharing Christmas being a complete person. Or something.
With the B plot over, all that’s left is to rejoin the two Rachel halves. Disappointingly, it does not involve mutilating any more starfish. No, the actual solution is far more stupid. Here it is in list format:
- Both Rachels acquire each other.
- They hold hands.
- Erek electrocutes them both.
- They each morph the other.
Yeah, I don’t know either.
Man, what a stinker. I wouldn’t even mind so much that the idea is pretty terrible in execution if not for the fact that the whole dilemma it’s trying to illustrate has already been dealt with. The David trilogy really highlighted the fact that Rachel enjoys the war against the Yeerks in a perverse kind of way, and her viewpoint books since then have shown her gradually coming to terms with the fact that she is by far the most violent and combative member of the team, for better or for worse. There really isn’t any need to sum it up in such a ham-handed way.
The Separation still isn’t the worst book of the series so far, but only because the Helmacrons don’t make an appearance. When I do my Top 5 and Bottom 5 lists at the end of the re-read project (which I have just now decided I’ll do), this will almost certainly show up on the latter. Who would have thought that one of the really bad books would have been written by K.A. Applegate herself?
Join me next time for Animorphs #33: The Illusion, in which Rachel and Tobias apparently make out. Expect to see a lot of this.