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Animorphs Re-Read – #36: The Mutation

by ◊ 1 year ago 3 Comments Switch View


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.

(IMPORTANT NOTICE: You may have realised that we’ve slightly altered our schedule here on the Intergalactic Academy. Basically, we’re doing two posts a week instead of three because both Phoebe and I are hella busy right now. This means the Animorphs posts will come twice a month instead of four times a month – 50% less Animorphs for you guys, but 50% more not-writing-huge-blog-posts for me. Don’t worry, I’m still going be finishing the series, it will just take a bit longer!

Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming.)

People warned me about this book. They said it was bad. I scoffed at them – how bad could it be? We’ve been through the Helmacrons, after all. We’ve weathered the storm of Crayak and that Drode guy. Surely nothing in The Mutation could phase me now?

Oh, how foolish I was. I stand before you a broken man, my will shattered by plot contrivances so dimwitted they wouldn’t pass muster on a bad Saturday morning cartoon. You warned me, and I would not listen.

Even this Orca can’t cheer me up.

The Trainwreck starts off promisingly enough. Jake gets a late-night phone call Cassie, during which she makes a veiled reference to trouble brewing in the war against the Yeerks. It’s Animorphing Time!

Jake arrives at Cassie’s barn to find a dying Hork-Bajir, as well as Toby, the Seer from the Hork-Bajir colony in the mountains. Toby explains that the dying Hork-Bajir was part of a failed experiment by Visser Three to create Aqua-Bajir that he could use to rediscover the Pemalite ship. Right off the bat, this makes no sense. Why would amphibious Hork-Bajir help him find the ship? It’s so far underwater that the kids had to acquire a giant squid to get to it the first time. If Visser Three can’t find it using Yeerk technology, a bunch of semi-aquatic mammals sure as hell aren’t going to help.

Toby says that Visser Three has created a ship called the Sea Blade to look for the Pemalite ship, I guess because he felt like turning the Blade Ship into a series. Maybe the 2012 model comes with plush leather interiors and keyless entry! The Fish-Bajir dies, and Jake decides that the have to stop Visser Three from getting his hands on Pemalite technology.

Ax guesses that the Sea Blade must be a new ship capable of staying underwater for extended periods of time, which makes no sense given that the Yeerks managed to find the Pemalite ship just fine using their ordinary ships the first time around. Anyway, they decide to acquire a killer whale with the improbable name of Swoosh (apparently Nike is sponsoring it – no really, that’s what the book says) and use the new morph to sink the Sea Blade.

Jake and Marco watch the Yeerk Pool for three days and eventually see the cloaked Sea Blade leave and make its way to the ocean. Jake follows it and morphs into Swoosh the Orca, at which point he experiences a cetacean power trip:

And then I felt the stirrings of the orca’s mind. Instincts were activated. Senses alerted brain centers. Threats? No. There were no threats. Threats could not exist. They were an impossibility. What could challenge my power?

I bet a modified spaceship could probably do some damage to an orca. Just saying.

The others catch up with him and they attack the ship, aided by a handful of real orcas who just happened to be swimming by. There’s a fairly gruesome (and effective) part where the Sea Blade demonstrates its anti-whale armament:

Dracon beam!

A horrible shrieking! An inhuman scream of pain, silenced too abruptly. I fired clicks. Weird, impossible picture. Not six orca. Not eight. Nine. Nine.

What?

<Oh, God!> I cried.

One of the orcas had been split lengthwise. There were two echo pictures where there should have been one.

[...]

<Who was hit?> I cried.

<Demorph!> Tobias yelled.

<It’s not me!> Cassie answered. <Ax! Marco!>

<I am unharmed,> Ax answered.

<I’m mentally destroyed. Tell me that didn’t happen.> Marco.

For all my complaints about Visser Three being wussified over the course of the series, I do like that the Yeerks become increasingly paranoid about random animals hanging around their bases of operation.

But that’s the last compliment you’ll be seeing in this post, because things are about to get  colossally stupid.

The gang surfaces, remorphs and manages to damage the Sea Blade. They follow it to make sure it sank, but instead witness it being pulled into a cave by a group of humanoid creatures. Another alien species? Nope, even more stupid than that. They manage to get into the cave when a door-like thing opens for them. Inside there’s a bunch of dead people who have been preserved, statue-like, on top of an old ship.

So that’s kind of creepy, I guess. But just wait.

They head deeper into the cave and find an entire Japanese WWII-era aircraft carrier, which is just a little bit impossible given the size of the cave opening. The crew has been preserved inside, just like the men from the older ship.

“I am so out of here,” Marco said. “Jake, we have to go. Now.”

As always, Marco is the voice of reason.

They leave the ship and find a seagull which is not a seagull:

The creature I thought was a seagull was not a normal seagull.

Its eyes were enormous. They covered the entire sides of its head and touched over its beak. And unlike a normal seagull’s eyes, this bird’s eyes were bright blue.

<Eyes adapted to a perpetually dim environment?> Tobias guessed.

As if in response the bird squawked, spread its wings, and took off.

Now this is pretty stupid, but just wait. Just wait.

They go further and find:

It was a city. Sort of. A series of interlocked buildings. Like one of those ancient Indian cliff dwellings made of adobe. Only this city was made from various parts of ships and boats. Massive prows jutted out, tankers, battleships, passenger ships, sailboats. Lifeboats were hoisted up the sides of ships to become terraces. Ships’ propellers turned slowly, drawing air into monstrous steel fortresses.

Not yet.

From the center of the city rose a fantastic tower. It was a visual trip through the history of technology. At its base it was constructed of massive iron cannon, welded and bolted upright deck upon deck, rising perhaps thirty feet. All of it was covered in hammered gold and silver, a billion-dollar skin. After that the building materials began to change. Heavy iron plate. Smoke stacks. Massive guns.

Steel pipe. Another twenty or thirty feet. And then lighter construction: aluminum sheathing, wire, computer consoles, the tubes of burned out missiles.

Amazingly, we’re still not at Ground Zero.

They spot some blue-skinned, gilled humanoid creatures, evidently the ones who captured the Sea Blade. (Nope, still not it.) Jake figures that Visser Three will become the latest attraction in the Undrwater Museum of the Dead and decides it’s time to leave, which of course doesn’t work. They get captured and brought before the queen of the water-people, who is sitting on a real, honest-to-God throne.

Yes, pretty dumb. And still not the worst. We have yet further to descend before we reach the bottom.

The Queen lady apparently speaks every language on Earth and calls the kids ‘Surface-Dwellers’ and oh my god it’s actually going  there, isn’t it. She describes her species as the ‘Nartec’, because I guess being omnilingual doesn’t make her any better at naming a species than most second-rate fantasy authors.

She invites them to a ‘feast’ (no seriously), and gives them the Nartec origin story. And here it is, the jackpot of stupid at the heart of this book. The Nartec were ordinary people living on an ordinary island until it ‘sank’ with them on it. They ‘adapted’ to life underwater and are now amphibious. How do they have light so far underwater? Glowing rocks! What makes the rocks glow? Radiation! Is that the explanation we get for how ordinary humans transformed into fish-people? You bet it is!

Radiation. Made them change. Into fish people. No, seriously.

NO, SERIOUSLY.

In other words it’s this, but not played for laughs.

And what are the fish people going to do with the Sea Blade, you ask? Why, take over the world, of course!

“Our plans are these,” Queen Soco continued. “We will send a carefully selected and trained crew of Searchers to the Surface in this powerful new vessel. We will take whatever oceangoing vessels we encounter. We will mount raids on the Cultures of the Sun! We will conquer villages, towns, cities – even larger land masses! We will show all Surface-Dwellers how powerful and advanced are the Nartec!”

“The long centuries of our exile are over!”

Words cannot describe how cataclysmically goofy this is. It’s not even goofy like the Pemalites, either. They were clearly supposed to be tongue in cheek, what with the ‘I’m so sorry you are not enjoying yourself’ klaxons and all. This is just bad.

But let’s press on so I can go back to  pretending The Mutation was never written.

The kids realise that the Nartec are becoming inbred because they don’t have enough captives to have sex with because less ships have been sinking.

So it’s Water World, basically.

How about we just…accelerate a little, all right? I’m not sure I can handle much more of this.

The kids get captures to be stuffed, but is okay because a Nartec-morphed Tobias rescues them all because Tobias is a badass. They invade the Sea Blade and find a bunch of mummified Hork-Bajir, but no mummified Visser Three. Ax tries to get the Sea Blade moving, but the Nartec are trying to break in. Visser Three makes contact via thought-speak and tells them to either get him out of the cave with them, or they’ll all die. They reluctant agree and manage to escape, but not before being chased by a WWII-era German submarine which is somehow still functioning. They escape. The end.

Good lord, where do I even start?

I can accept all kinds of cheesy stuff in these books. Hell, it’s part of the fun. But the cheesy stuff thus far has always been fun, and it’s always made sense given the series’ internal logic. Take Pemalites, for example: goofy as hell, but they’re space aliens so who cares. Andalites? Also slightly ridiculous, also space aliens. Are you seeing a pattern here?

It’s fine if the stupid stuff comes from space, but it’s suddenly a lot harder to swallow when you have this ludicrous underwater civilization existing on Earth. If this is ever referenced again, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb. I’m assuming/hoping it will just never be brought up again, because there’s absolutely no way to make it fit gracefully with the rest of the series’ lore.

The worst part is that The Mutaton isn’t all that bad in terms of its writing. Erica Bobone only ever wrote this book, but her prose would have been perfectly serviceable in any mid-tier entry in the series. It’s just unfortunate that she got saddled with the dud to end all duds. (Well, unless she came up with the plot. In that case I’m reeeeally glad this was her only book.)

My only consolation is that this has to be the lowest point in the recap project. There is no possible way the series could get worse than this, right? I mean, it’s not like the Helmacrons are coming back.

Shit.

Come back next time for my re-read of Animorphs #37: The Downward Spiral. I mean, The Weakness. Which also works, now that I think about it.

About the Author

Sean http://www.seanwills.com

I came to science fiction relatively late, being a bigger fan of fantasy during my teenage years. Now I enjoy speculative fiction of all kinds, particularly anything with a literary bent. I studied English at NUI Maynooth in Ireland, and now write science fiction for teenagers. Follow my exploits at www.seanwills.com. View all posts by Sean »

Discussion - 3 Comments:

  1. No, the Nartec remain forgotten, as they should be.

    Unfortunately, the mummified soldiers still show up in my dreams sometimes. Ugh.

    Reply Quote

  2. Lamusiqe13

    Yeah, the Nartec are completely forgotten. I actually have mixed feelings about this, because one of the (many) things that makes this book so bad is that it’s completely irrelevant to the rest of the series. This is even true in terms of character development; Jake’s development is so ridiculous (why is it that every time someone asks him to do something, he just sits around looking stupid?), and no one else is developed at all. All this makes it the least relevent book in the series.

    And if it’s at all possible, the next book is just as bad as this one. It’s kind of the reverse of this – a decent plot, bogged down with AWFUL character development and bad prose. And from there, it gets EVEN WORSE! The next few weeks are gonna be hard. I feel genuinely sorry for you for the next few recaps.

    Reply Quote

  3. eNVee:D

    Yeah, it’s probably a good thing you cut back to two a month, there are enough bad apples coming up that may give you mental indigestion. I couldn’t believe I was reading an Animorphs book when I read this one. You know something? I think I could have handled the Nartec as an alien species, though. Why didn’t they go THAT route? I mean, even insofar as an unknown alien species living on Earth, I could SERIOUSLY handle that. But not this, nope!

    As for the later titles, yes, the next book SUCKS, particularly with Rachel’s CD and yes, 39 and 42 are tied in my ledger as the WORST books in the series, with special awards going to both in the categories of Horrendous Plotline, Gross Negligence of Character Development, Most Unwanted Revival of Past Unnecessary Character(s), and my personal favorite, Worst Use of Creative License Concerning a Member of the Animal Kingdom (PETA was not happy about this one).

    I do not envy you, Sean, and your task ahead…

    Reply Quote

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