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.
Here we go, Animorphs #33: The Illusion! Judging by the title, I’m guessing it’s about magicians. Here’s the cover:
Wait, I got mixed up.
Here’s the real cover:
Our ghostwriter this week is Ellen Geroux, who we have yet to encounter. Let’s see if she can trump K.A. Applegate’s own effort from the previous book. (Although we’re now speculating that that may not have been Applegate after all. If you’d like to help us investigate this possibility, you can apply to join the Intergalactic Academy’s burgeoning Intelligence Division by commenting here.)
The Illusion opens with the kids at a party, which is interesting given how most of the books start with them apparently hanging around waiting for the Yeerks to make their next move. Tobias feels uncomfortable being surrounded by so many people, and suggests to Rachel that his human body is no longer what he considers his ‘real’ self. She dances with him for a while, but he starts to leave when he realizes that he only has eight minutes left before he gets stuck in human morph forever.
On the way out, he notices a bulletin board with a picture of a bald eagle. The caption mentions that eagles only live for a maximum of about eighteen years, which introduces a further element of his situation that I don’t think the books have ever brought up: lifespan. As a Red-Tailed Hawk, Tobias is going to die way before any of the rest of the Animorphs.
Actually, that raises another good point: does his human morph age in proportion to how long he’s lived, or is he only ever going to be able to morph into a version of himself that was the age he was at when he acquired himself? I mean, that must be how it works, otherwise most of the insect morphs the characters have acquired over the course of the series would be long dead.
So that’s interesting.
Rachel and Tobias have a surprisingly complex argument about their relationship (basically, Rachel seems to be subtly trying to get him to come around to the idea of him staying human because she wants something in her life that isn’t tainted by the war), but he runs off before they can come to any conclusion. On the way out he spots Chapman interrogating Erek, but he doesn’t have time to help him. He runs out of the school and has a momentary bout of panic when he thinks that he won’t be able to demorph.
So, for those not paying attention: Tobias thinks of his bird-body as his ‘real’ self. This is the same dilemma that he’s been dealing with since the series began. I complained about the thematic repetition of The Separation, but for some reason it works a lot better here. Maybe it’s because the writing is competent in this one.
Tobias bumps into Jake (still at the party), who tells him that the Chee have lost track of the anti-morphing ray. Continuity! Apparently the Yeerks are ready to test it on a ‘live subject’.
Jake says that he’s glad Tobias didn’t get stuck as a human, since they’d be like ‘Joan of Arc without her sword’ if they lost his ability to fly and his hawk senses. Tobias responds with thusly:
“I’m glad you made it Tobias You’re our eyes. Our ears. Our air force If we lost you we’d be nothing. Like Joan of Arc without her sword. Patton without his pearl-handled pistols .. .”
<Saddam without Tony-eight places, the special Republican Guard, and a jar of anthrax? Stop the flattery, man. You’re making me blush.>
I’m guessing that’s going to get changed in the reprint. (Also I have no idea what he’s talking about here. Anyone more conversant with late-1990′s geopolitics want to fill me in?)
Everyone meets up in the Barn of Fate the next day, where Erek fills them in on the ‘AMR’ (I’m glad they came up with an acronym for it, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to keep typing ‘Anti-Morphing Ray’ every time). They need a test subject, but Visser Three won’t do it because the beam may be fatal and/or could explode the first time it’s used.
Tobias comes up with an idea that seems ingenious at first but is actually really bad: he’ll deliberately get captured so that when the Yeerks test the AMR on him, he’ll just stay in his hawk form and they’ll assume it doesn’t work. I say this is actually a really bad idea because they’d just kill him at that point. I mean, sure, the others plan on busting him out, but that’s easier said than done.
Ax points out that Tobias could be captured for longer than two hours, meaning he’d have to ‘demorph’ to Andalite at some point. To that end, he’ll need to acquire Ax, which is something they really should have thought of sooner given that it would make it easy to trick the Yeerks into thinking they were all Andalites. They decide that Tobias will let himself be captured at a huge Sharing meeting, which is taking place at a new community center that the Chee believe is connected to the Yeerk Pool.
Tobias goes to acquire Ax, and they bromance it up like never before. Ax mentions that he feels Tobias should know about Andalite culture, since he’s part-Andalite (sort of) himself – if Tobias is interested, of course.
If I was interested! I wanted so much to stay cool. To make it seem like I could take it or leave it. But this was something, finally, that I really did have a right to. I was part Andalite, even if not genetically. God knew how. Or at least The Ellimist knew how. But I was. And it excited me.
I see what you did there, Geroux.
Tobias morphs Ax and is surprised to find that Andalites possess an innate sense of optimism. Ax says that much of Andalite culture is geared towards countering this instinctual optimism with a sense of realism, and suggests that the whole ‘proud warrior race’ thing is a role that Andalites force themselves into rather than adopting naturally.
That may explain why they’re so bad at it.
Tobias makes like that dude from Avatar and learns how to become one with his Andalite body, which includes drinking through his feet. As you do. He also learns the Andalite ritual thing that Ax always does, in the process raising the Bromance levels of this book to somewhere around the 93% mark. Again, the Intelligence Division is hard at work trying to quantify it in more precise terms.
The Sharing meeting is a big event, giving everyone plenty of opportunity to hide in fly morph. Tom gets a Controller of the Year award (they don’t call it that, obviously), and there’s some humorous dialogue relating to Marco getting stuck in a pot of chocolate fondue. I believe Ms. Geroux is worthy to be admitted into the ranks of the Ghostwriters Who Are Good club, which so far contains more people than its shameful Ghostwriters Who Are Bad counterpart. Visser Three shows up to the meeting in human morph, indicating that things have now Gotten Real. I should probably stop with the capitalization.
There’s a nice moment when Visser Three tries to kill fly-Cassie, only for Jake to grab his hand at the last minute.
Jake released the Visser’s hand. Jake smiled. The Visser smiled. Or at least they formed their mouths into smiles.
<Cassie? Are you clear?>
<Yeah. I think I’m in Jake’s shirt pocket.> Then she laughed. <The Visser just told Jake he hoped he didn’t scare him. Jake said, “I don’t scare easy.”>
<That’s our boy,> I said.
Oh, the delicious irony.
Jake smashes one of the community center’s windows, giving Tobias easy access:
Fluorescent lights illuminated a wide hallway with tall cinder block walls. I smelled new construction- fresh paint, drywall dust. Andchlorine, coming from the Olympic-size indoor pool I saw through a wall of glass.
It suddenly struck me just what level of cash flow The Sharing controls.Serious cash. Not the kind of money you make selling Furbies on the black market.
This is the kind of detail that not every ghost writer includes, but it really makes their books stand out when they do. I’d love to know if this kind of thing was a dictate from Applegate, or if they decided to include it themselves.
Also lol @ furbies. That’s another reference that’ll need to change for the reprint.
Wait, here’s yet another one:
Marco said, <You know, Rachel, when you’re in fly morph, talking ruthlessly about guerrilla warfare, and force and surprise and all, Ijust find it so exciting, and yet disturbing. You know? Like a Britney Spears video with tanks.>
Long story short, Tobias and Rachel get into the obviously-a-trap- base under the community center. Tobias is in his bird form, while Rachel is a fly hidden in his feathers. Once inside, they discover that the effort to capture them is being orchestrated by Sub-Visser Fifty-One, AKA Taylor. She goes by her human name even when talking to ‘Andalites’, which is…weird, I guess? Although she also acts strangely like her host (a teenage girl), so I guess she’s unusual by Yeerk standards.
Oh, and also has an artificial arm that can shoot paralyzing gas, making her roughly one thousand times cooler than Visser Three. She’s also more competent than him, reinforcing the idea that he just stumbled into a promotion and is a complete dumbass compared with the Visser population at large.
Tobias wakes up a huge glass cube. Visser Three arrives to oversee the AMR test, which predictably doesn’t work. Or, well, it does, but Tobias isn’t morphed to begin with. Visser Three is displeased, of course, so he orders some Hork-Bajir to feed the scientist Controllers to a bunch of Taxxon. Slowly.
Yeesh. I think I may have said this before, but a lot of the ghostwriters handle Visser Three much better than K.A. Applegate ever did.
Taylor begins to torture Tobias with
alliteration a machine that directly manipulates the portions of his brain responsible for causing pain, which I believe I may have seen in one or two SF novels before this. Tobias survives the ordeal by retreating into his hawk-mind, saying that the hawk can adapt to the agony as merely another fact of its life.
Now, as any psychologists reading this will know, intentionally suppressing your human side while in morph will lead to a string of hyper-realistic hallucinations of events from your past. Obviously.
This whole section could have ended up being like an extended, tedious dream sequence. Geroux thankfully does some interesting things with it – namely, showing the reader just how crappy Tobias’ home life was before he became an Animorph:
I spoke cautiously. “Well, it’s like an honor,” I said. “I mean, the committee picked my drawing out from hundreds of entries. Just something I sketched during art class. I had no idea it would make the state show.”
I was hoping he would take me to the prizewinners’ reception thatweekend. Stupid. It wasn’t like it was a big deal. But it would have been okay.
“Do you get prize money?” he grumbled casually, not even turning to look at me.
“No,” I said, confused.
“No? So then what’s it worth? If it won’t help pay the bills, what good is it?” He glanced at me patronizingly, then back to the TV. “When I was about your age I already had a job. At this car lot. Washing the cars. All the money went to my mother. All my earnings. Because Dad wasn’t around. It was tight…” He broke off and leaned back into the couch.
I stood there at the foot of the stairs, unable to move. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. Couldn’t show him that. I told myself, No big deal, Tobias. Just some dumb drawing. No big deal.
Tobias manages to endure the torture for a while, until Taylor comes up with the bright idea of making him experience pleasure so that the contrasting pain will be that much worse. She’s a little bit sadistic, in case that wasn’t obvious. Tobias still manages to hold out until the supposed two-hour mark, at which point Taylor believes that he has chosen to become trapped rather than demorph.
Tobias manages to get her to talk, and she reveals that the human Taylor chose to become a Controller after a house fire left her badly disfigured and destroyed her arm. Interestingly, Taylor begins to speak as though the words are coming from the Yeerk and the human at the same time, which is roughly equivalent to what happened when Cassie was speaking to the voluntary Yeerk guy in DER PARASIT. She also comes hilariously close to saying that humans have it better than Yeerks because they can have sex.
Unfortunately, Taylor doesn’t stop the torture. In a moment of near-insanity, Tobias tells her the names of the other Animorphs, but she either doesn’t hear him or he’s incapable of producing thought-speak through the pain. Tobias has one last hallucination, this time of Elfangor. He experiences his sort-of father’s first time killing another intelligent being (a Taxxon), along with a few less violent memories. Elfangor tells him to endure if he can, but not to fear death either.
He comes to just as Visser Three brings an injured gold eagle into the room. He claims that this is one of the ‘Andalites’, but Tobias quickly realizes that it’s a wild eagle and doesn’t react as Visser Three feeds it to a Taxxon.
Then Ax starts to emerge from the floor, demorphing from a flea, and tells Tobias that they managed to get themselves smuggled into the base by hiding on a dying eagle from Cassie’s barn. The ensuing fight is a complete bloodbath, with Rachel doing the most damage to the Hork-Bajir guards. She eventually corners Taylor, intent on killing her, but Tobias begs her not to, pointing out that Visser Three will almost certainly kill her anyway. Rachel reluctantly agrees and they escape, although Taylor is aware that there’s something unusual about Tobias because she saw him try to ‘demorph’ (actually morph into an Andalite) when he should have lost the ability.
A day or two later, Tobias tells Ax about his ‘hallucinations’. Surprised and a bit shaken, Ax says that Tobias is describing an ‘Utzum’, a concept from before Andalite religion went out of vogue. Supposedly, Andalites would experience memories of their ancestors at the moment of death in order to ease their passage to the afterlife, and would specifically feel one of their recent ancestors press their tail-blade against their forehead. Which is exactly that happened with Tobias and Elfangor.
Probably just coincidence, right?
Tobias and Rachel get all ‘I have emotions about you’, and then:
She kissed me.
And they lived happily ever after.
So that’s The Illusion! It is really, really good. Like ‘top 10 in the series’ good. Actually, a disturbing number of books on that list, as it stands now, are from the ghostwritten period.
Does that idea frighten anyone else? I feel suddenly adrift in a world made strange and frightening.
Next up is Animorphs #34: The Prophecy, which is likely to do nothing for my sudden existential angst given that it’s written by the formidable Melinda Metz. It also featured Cassie turning into a Hork-Bajir. I guess she’s just working her way through every alien species in the series? I can’t wait until she gets to those psychic frog things.