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.
Man, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.
Visser One has always been one of the most enigmatic characters in the series. She’s seemingly far more competent than Visser Three, as evidenced by the fact that all of her plans go better than any of his, but that’s about all we know about her. Her motivations are kept largely hidden from the reader, meaning that we can never be entirely sure exactly how she feels about the invasion of Earth. I mean, she’s obviously in support of it, but I’ve always gotten the impression that her reasons for conquering a species would be more practical (the Yeerks need host bodies, therefore they must enslave other species) – unlike Visser Three, whose chief concern has always been his own reputation.
I won’t have to wonder about it for much longer, though, because Visser (which is not called The Visser Chronicles, but may as well be) is told from her perspective. Let’s dig in.
(Warning: As tradition demands when dealing with a non-main series book, there will be a lot of quotes.)
The book opens with a prologue. Eldriss Five-Six-Two (just ‘Eldriss’ from here on out) tells ‘her’ husband that she’s going to head over to the marina for some fresh air. He mentions that she’s been spending an awful lot of time on the boat, suggesting that Eldriss has been laying the groundwork for her ‘accident’ for a while now. She goes upstairs to make sure Marco is asleep and proceeds to diss him thusly:
Marco was still asleep. Or pretending to be. A good-looking kid, but small. Already, in his early adolescence, the stamp of failure was on him. He was too sweet-natured and trusting to ever make it very far in a hard world. A world that would only grow harder for humans.
Much harder, if I had my way.
‘The stamp of failure’? Ouch.
Eva, Marco’s mother, isn’t too pleased about all of this, especially since she knows what Eldriss is planning, but there’s nothing she can do about it.
Eldriss takes the boat out, and we learn that she actually enjoys sailing a great deal. It also provides a perfect cover story for her disappearance – humans, she says, always need a victim to blame after a catastrophe, and anyone looking into her death will blame her for being foolish enough to take the boat out in rough weather.
Interestingly, Eldriss was originally supposed to lead the invasion of Earth. As we’ll discover later, she was actually responsible for finding Earth in the first place – it was only much later that Visser Three was put in charge. This means that we can definitively say that the project to take over Earth has been going for two years at the most, since that’s when Eva disappeared.
I would spearhead the invasion of Earth. I would take charge of our greatest conquest. I would stand alone atop the Yeerk military hierarchy.
I was to become Visser One.
So she’s a glory-seeker after all, she’s just not as obnoxious about it as Visser Three. The series would have been so much cooler with her as the main villain…
Fast forward to the ‘present’, and Visser One is on trial for treason. We get out first glimpse of the mysterious Council of Thirteen:
They were dressed in dark red robes, so dark that they were almost black. They stood, motionless, held in place, suspended by gravity-neutral fields, fed by a continuous refined current of Kandrona rays.
The Hork-Bajir-Controllers wore a lightweight mesh beneath their robes to keep the wrist and arm blades from slicing through the robe’s fabric.
The two Taxxon-Controllers were bloated, monstrously inflated versions of the great centipedes. Both were attended by Gedds, ready with freshly killed meat to feed the eternal hunger that not even a Yeerk inside that feverish brain can control. Their ceremonial robes were as large as sails, wrapped around the raised front third of their bodies.
The Council is actually light-years away, but can see a holographic projection of Eldriss, just as she can see a projection of them. The fact that they can communicate with her and see her vital statistics in real-time suggests they’re using the same kind of Z-Space communicator Ax employed in that book where he managed to contact his parents.
The final guest at the happy fun-time part is Visser Three, who is going to act as Eldriss’ inquisitor. Eldriss protests to this, claiming that he is the real traitor, but the Council ignores her petition to have someone else stand in his place. The person speaking for the Council is Garoff, a Yeerk who was apparently Eldriss’ mentor.
Oh, and she thinks Visser Three is an ignorant buffoon. She’ll get no argument from me!
Eldriss is faced with the following charges:
Treason by incompetence, which carries a sentence of death by Dracon beam; treason by violation of established procedure, which carries a sentence of death by Dracon beam; treason by sympathy with a subject species, which carries a sentence of death by Kandrona starvation; treason by contact with the foul Andalite race, which carries a sentence of death by torture; treason by murder of subordinate Yeerks, which carries a sentence of exile to punishment duty.”
So, how many times over is Visser Three guilty of ‘treason by incompetence’? There have been 35 books so far, sooo…
Visser Three taunts Eldriss in private thought-speak, but she shows no discernible fear at his threats – mostly because she can’t:
I showed nothing on my human face. I was no longer able to show much emotion on my human face. The left side of my head was burned almost beyond recognition, bled and black and raw. My mouth was twisted from blows delivered while imprisoned.
I had been badly injured in a fall. A final, terrible battle between Visser Three and me. A battle that had been engineered, I later realized, by the so-called Andalite bandits, in a rather clever and ambitious attempt to have Visser Three and I kill each other.
Who’s got the ‘stamp of failure’ on them now? That’s right, it is you.
Eva seems to relish the idea of Eldriss dying of Kandrona starvation, but Eldriss ignores her.
Eldriss begins her story via a ‘memory dump’, which lets the Council see her memories of the past, starting from back when she held the lofty rank of Sub-Visser 409. She was on duty on a moon that the Yeerks bought outright from the Skrit Na (starting a war with them would have been pointless, since they make weak hosts). Her assignment involved intelligence gathering, the holy grail of which was the discovery of a ‘Class Five’ species.
At this point, Eldriss says, the Yeerk homewold was surrounded by Andalite warships. The Yeerks needed a more numerous host species in order to retake it; the Hork-Bajir would be perfect, except for that whole ‘virus bomb killed most of them’ thing. So I guess that did work as intended, even if it involved genocide.
Here’s Eldriss own summary of the Yeerk’s classification system for host species, as explained to her new recruits arriving on the Skrit Na moon:
“There are five classes of alien,” I continued. “Class One: those physically unfit for infestation-the Skrit Na being a good example because of their annoying need to phase. Class Two: those who can be infested but that suffer from serious physical drawbacks-such as the Taxxons and our own Gedds. Class Three: those that can be infested, suffer from no physical debility, but exist only in small numbers and cannot be quickly bred.” I used my hand to indicate my own Hork-Bajir body.
“Four: those that would be excellent targets for infestation but that are, for now at least, too formidable to challenge. Can anyone name an example?”
Dead silence. They all knew the example, of course. But they were afraid that saying it out loud might constitute treason.
Oh, come, come now,” I prodded. “We all know who we mean: our former mentors and present-day tormentors, the Andalites.”
Nervous glances. Like maybe I’d crossed the line myself.
“And then, there are Class-Five aliens: Aliens who are right for infestation, exist in large numbers, and do not have the power to resist us. That, my fellow Yeerks, is our mission here. To find the real, live example of Class Five.”
Right for infestation? Exist in large numbers? Don’t have the power to resist Yeerks?
Eldriss kills a Gedd host body to make a point, but unlike Visser Three, she doesn’t dispose of her subordinates for no reason, and lets the Yeerk who was Controlling the body live. The tour of the base for the new recruits is interrupted when one of her advisers tells her that a report from the Taxxon homeworld suggests that a Class Five species has been found.
Surprise twist: it’s humans.
The one who made the report was then soon-to-be Visser Three. The report consists of pictures of Chapman and Loren, who you may recall were involved in a trip to the Taxxon homeworld during The Andalite Chronicles.
Eldriss points out that Alloran became Visser Three around the same time, and claims that he met and befriended both Alloran (before infesting him, I guess) and Elfangor. I’m not entirely sure why she thinks the Council would believe this, but Visser Three plays right into her hands by having an outburst and threatening to kill her. I may have mentioned once or twice that he’s kind of incompetent.
Eldriss goes to say how she defied orders by stealing a ship and searching for Earth rather than letting herself be reassigned to the Taxxon homeworld. Visser Three tries to bring this up as a point against her, until Garoff, the one speaking for the Council, points out that they already knew about this and had pardoned her for it. Swing and a miss for Visser Three.
After searching long enough to exhaust most of their supplies, Eldriss and Essam, her accomplice, finally stumble across Earth. Applegate’s description of our solar system from an alien’s perspective is pretty great. Eldriss considers checking some of the moons of the gas giants first, before settling on Mars or Earth as the most likely candidates for housing life. Having confirmed that there’s an intelligent species, she scans the surrounding space for any orbital weapons or ships and is overjoyed to discover that we’re completely defenseless when it comes to space-based attacks.
She also says that the entire Yeerk empire produces, in one year, the equivalent of only a fraction of the data pouring out of Earth. We’ve seen throughout the series that human culture is a lot more complex than those of other species (for example, Andalites seem to live fairly simple lives despite having highly advanced technology), so I guess this is reinforcing that idea.
Eldriss and Essam land their ship, but end up coming out into the middle of a war zone. Eldriss is surprised by how powerful humans weapons seem to be (they encounter missiles and a tank). She eventually finds a human on his own and infest him, and is immediately bowled over by the discovery that humans have two brain lobes.
Now, this is actually kind of clever, even if the science involved is a little bit wonky. Basically, Eldriss implies that Yeerks (and by extension, all of the species they’ve had contact with) do not have brains that lend themselves to an internally inconsistent mind. That would make sense, given what we’ve seen of the other species in the Animorphs universe. Yeerks are incredibly directed in their thinking, with little to no capacity for self-doubt or compassion (in most cases), Andalites aren’t a whole lot better, and the Taxxon pretty much define the idea of a one-track mind. Humans are radically different – hence our unusually chaotic culture. Eldriss, for one, isn’t overly impressed:
But I also saw decisions improved as a result of uncertainty. Hesitation and internal discord leading to decisions that were wiser, more useful, than quicker decisions would have been.
And yet that seemed a small compensation for the internal treason and confusion and conflict.
No wonder they kill each other, I thought. They very nearly kill themselves!
It was madness. Humans, as a species, were mad.
I dunno, Andalites seem pretty nuts as well.
Eldriss continues to explore her new host’s mind. At that moment, he’s pre-occupied with praying for his life and with thoughts of his wife and children. Neither are concepts that Eldriss can fully understand. She also learns that he was drafted into his country’s military to fight in a hopeless war. The ones doing the bombings were from a country called ‘America’, so that’s where Eldriss decides to go.
So, this is a pretty interesting way of handling the ‘All aliens end up in America’ thing. Basically, Eldriss ends up landing in Iraq in the middle of the Gulf War and decides to head for the country that seems to be responsible for doing the most damage. Since the Yeerks need to cripple Earth’s military forces, they hit the place with the biggest guns first. (Although the books have always been vague about how far in the invasion has spread. I’m assuming things must have moved to other parts of the world by the time the Animorphs came onto the scene.)
Anyway, that’s the end of the flashback, which makes this a good place for the end of the post! Come back next week for the second and (hopefully) final part of the Visser re-read.