The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #8 “The Alien”

animorphs_bk08Animorphs #8: “The Alien”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What would you do if you were the only alien trapped on a strange planet? Probably freak out, right? Well, that’s what Ax feels like doing. But as an Andalite warrior-cadet, he has to be pretty cool about stuff like that. He’s been hanging out with the Animorphs ever since the Dome ship was destroyed by the Yeerks and his brother, Prince Elfangor, was destroyed by Visser Three.

Life on Earth is pretty different for Ax. But there is one thing he, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, and Tobias have in common. Something that one alien, four kids and a hawk know they have to do: stop the Yeerks…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: The Animorphs’ most pressing mission yet: familiarize Ax with human habits! Movie theaters, trips to their school, meeting their families, this book is jam packed with Ax-as-a-human shenanigans. Intermixed with this all, this is the first full book we have with Ax’s first person narration (he had a few chapters of his own in the first Megamorphs book, but that hardly counts), so through all the comedic hijinks are a lot of rather sad personal reflections from a kid alien who’s been suddenly torn from his people and left on a strange world in the midst of a war he wasn’t trained to fight with no way of contacting home.

Or so he thinks…until he decides to play the “game” on Marco’s dad’s computer and accidentally codes the human race forward several centuries, creating a formula that enabling space communication. Unable to resist the sudden possibly to contact his family (and also get some advice on what the heck he should be doing as the sole Andalite representative on Earth, given the quandaries of the strict “no sharing” policy the Andalites have to other races and the challenges that this causes when trying to fight on a team), Ax recruits Tobias for help breaking into the science center where Marco’s dad works and manages to open a communication channel with the Andalite home world. In an agonizingly brief period of time, Ax’s already tough situation is made all the worse by an Andalite commander who reinforces the idea that Ax is to NEVER share information with the humans, regardless of how close he may come to them, and that he must take the fall for giving the Animorphs their morphing powers (this was a huge no-no, and the commander doesn’t want to damage the heroic reputation of Elfangor who needs to remain a war hero in the people’s minds. Little ole Ax, however…) Even worse, after learning of Elfangor’s death, his father tasks Ax with the tiny, small, very simple job of avenging his brother by killing his murderer who just happens to be Visser Three.

Unsurprisingly, Ax leaves these conversations not feeling too hopeful about his prospects as a member of Team Animorph. An already problematic rift of distrust (a few conversations have already come up where Ax’s shifty answers have angered the Animorphs, most particularly Rachel and Marco who remain suspicious of his true loyalties) can only be made worse by this strict reinforcement of Andalite law, and why even bother when Ax himself must now undertake the almost guaranteed suicide mission of killing Visser Three? After some luck with an angry Yeerk Controller who decides to help Ax to spite Visser Three (who has been letting less important Yeerks die due to the Kandrona shortage taking place due to the events of book #7, one of whom happened to be this Yeerk’s good friend), Ax learns that Visser Three sometimes like to go for a nice jog in an Earth meadow to, you know, leave the stress of being Visser behind him. He orders Tobias not to tell anyone of what he’s planning to do and sets off with the plan to morph a rattlesnake and poison Visser Three. The plan almost works, with Ax getting a good bite in, but loosing Visser Three as he flees his Andalite host body to escape in a river, leaving Ax with the poisoned Andalite and a bunch of Hork-Bajir now closing in. Luckily for him, Tobias has disregarded all of his honor nonsense, and the Animorphs show up to save the day.

After all of this, Ax decides that the whole “Andalites First” mantra really may not be the best approach to inter-galactic peace and winning the war against the Yeerks in general (he questions specifically the fact that the Andalites tried this approach, helping but not sharing technology or wisdom, with the Hork-Bajir and now a whole species and world has been lost to the Yeerks). He finally tells the Animorphs the big secret: the Andalites essentially created the Yeerks as conquerors. An Andalite came to their world and felt sorry for their limited capabilities (both in worm form and with the dull-witted Gedd species they Controlled) and gave them technology. And the rest is history: a devastating war the Andalites have been fighting, and losing, ever since. Now fully on board with Team Animorph, Ax risks one last call home to essentially give the Andalite commander the finger saying that while he remains on Earth, he is fully committed to his friends and to this fight, Andalite pride be damned.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax! This book really hits home how tough his whole situation has been. Not only is he marooned on a strange planet, cut off from his people completely, but he’s got to deal with all the political nonsense that his people have come up with, thus alienating (ha!) him even further from his fellow fighters and friends. Ax’s narration was great! So far I’ve liked all the unique voices (though I do find Cassie rather boring and tending towards ridiculous), and the distinction between their voices and viewpoints has really been on of the main traits holding this crazy series together. But Ax takes it to another level! We’re not just talking about a personality change, Applegate needed to write a voice for an alien being who is looking at Earth and humanity through a completely different lens. And I feel like she really pulled it off! Ax’s voice is both more formal than the rest of the characters and more blunt. His descriptions of the other characters are hilarious, always including that they each only have 2 eyes, and they all manage to walk upright without falling often, as if noting these facts individually for each human he sees is important. I also appreciated the deep friendship we see building between him and Tobias. Looking at it from this perspective, it seems natural that these two should become close, given that they are both cut off from their own people, though in very different ways. Plus, they’re meadow roommates. Further, Ax’s struggles between the relationship he is building with his human friends and the duty that he feels to his people is never minimized or made to feel silly. Through his eyes, we see how real these conflicting loyalties would be and how challenging it has been for him up to this point trying to balance both at once. Especially as he sees the distance between himself and the others grow throughout this book. All in all, I really enjoyed Ax’s viewpoint and the breath of fresh air it gives to the series as a whole, bringing something completely new to the series.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has to make some rough choices in this book, being confronted by the fact that Ax is keeping secrets from them and doesn’t consider himself to be truly one of them. This is especially hard considering that Ax has been with them for several books up to this point and, while they are all still getting to know him, there’s also a type of bond that has been created by going into battle together already several times. Also, it is noted that back in the book where Jake was controlled and Ax was impersonating him that his parents thought Jake was mentally ill, and that once he returned, they forced him to go to psychiatrist to make sure everything was all right. And, considering what we see here of Ax’s abilities to mimic human behavior, this is actually probably the best case scenario of the whole thing!

Xena, Warriar Princess: There’s a funny bit where Ax describes all the Animorphs and notes that Rachel is considered to be very beautiful, but that he doesn’t see it until he morphs human. Just another interesting tidbit on the effects of a morph on the Animorphs’ perceptions of what is around them. Rachel and Marco are also the two Animorphs who are still most reserved and suspicious towards Ax. They both react with much stronger feelings to the fact that Ax continues to hide things from them. And while I think this makes a lot of sense for these two characters, we have now had books from both of their perspectives since Ax arrived on the scene and there really wasn’t a lot of this included? I mean, it’s pretty obvious here that they’re both not fully on board, but in their own books, there wasn’t any mention of this. Just kind of a continuity issue more than anything.

A Hawk’s Life: Finally, Tobias has a major role to play! It makes sense as both he and Ax are both living outside of society in the woods, disconnected from their people in one way or another. It is clear that Ax and Tobias have become close friends throughout the books leading up to this and that most of Ax’s regrets have to do with not being able to be a true best friend with Tobias. And, of course, Tobias is the one he trusts to help him with his plots to break into the science center and track down Visser Three. Tobias has a tough balance to strike here, keeping Ax’s secrets but also staying true to his friends above anything. Ultimately, he manages it quite well using Ax’s own logic about loyalty to one’s Prince against him and summoning Jake and the rest to bail Ax out of his suicidal mission to take down Visser Three.

Peace, Love, and Animals: We get another example of Cassie’s deeper insight into people and how truly useful this skill is. Only she is able to unpack the true motivation behind Ax’s unwillingness to share the Andalites’ secrets with them, that it is shame not pride that holds him back. Ax also runs into Cassie in her farm’s fields in horse morph. So we see another example of an Animorph using a morph as an escape route. And Cassie even asks Ax not to tell Jake because she knows that he disapproves of morphing being used in this way.

The Comic Relief: Marco has a few very frank conversations with Ax. He and Rachel both remain suspicious of him, but it seems that Marco has a closer relationship with Ax to take him aside and really lay out the facts to him. It’s a good scene all around, since Ax can even understand and respect Rachel and Marco’s opinion of him based on his own behavior. Also, can I just admit, if Tobias and Rachel weren’t my favorite couple ever, I might actually ship Marco/Rachel? I mean….they’re a pretty awesome team and they seem to end up on the same side of most arguments in these books.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The morphs are always bizarre and disgusting, but there is a new level of weirdness listening to Ax describe the morphing process to become human in the same way that the others describe becoming random animals. Also, becoming the rattlesnake wasn’t a lovely picture.

Couples Watch!: Ax notes that Cassie has a picture of Jake in her locker. Awww. Also, when Cassie tries to say that she and Jake are “just friends” like all the rest of them, Ax is quite confused because he says he’s seen them holding hands. And she’s all “…you weren’t supposed to see that…” Oh, young love, where hand holding must be hidden!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three doesn’t have much time here, though he is discussed a lot and the true terror/horror of a Yeerk-infested-Andalite  really hits home in this book, coming from Ax’s perspective. There is also an interesting aspect of Yeerk infestation that is raised here. We know that in morph, the Animorphs must always struggle to balance their own minds as well as that of the animal they’ve become. Here, we see Visser Three following an urge (to run through the grass and graze) that comes purely from his Andalite host, not the  Yeerk. So, what is this balance like? Is it a similar struggle to wall out the instincts of the host body? I don’t remember this being addressed in Jake’s book when he was infested. But that was also a much shorter period of time? So maybe over the years this balance being met becomes more important?

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Man, the whole bit when the Andalite is laying there in the field, finally free from the Yeerk, but knowing he will be recaptured any moment. He begs for death and wishes only to let his family know that if he is taken again, he will always keep fighting. It’s tragic in every way, seeing such a proud being so broken down. I mean, it’s hard to imagine surviving as a Controller in any circumstance, but to be a host for Visser Three who’s just so casually evil all the time? And to know that your body and abilities are what’s enabling him to rise so high and commit such terrible deeds? Awful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The main action plan was Ax’s attempt to kill Visser Three, and the rattlesnake, that was actually some clever thinking. The worst plan, however, was the idea of taking Ax to the movie theater in the first little caper adventure of the book. I mean, sure, introducing Ax to human culture is good. But you know the guy has got a problem with self-control with food, and even regular humans struggle to not inhale that buttery popcorn! Not to mention, you’re taking him to a closed room, surrounded by tons of people, with only a few exits, where everyone is supposed to sit quietly for hours. It’s just a recipe for disaster for a guy whose two main loves in his human morph are eating everything and talking loudly and weirdly. Any shock on the Animorphs’ part for his behavior is completely unjustified. You brought this embarrassment on yourselves, guys.

Favorite Quote:

Ax’s thoughts on the movie-going plan. Just a perfect example of the type of deadpan delivery that made Ax’s narration so fun.

Of course, I would have to attend the movie in a morph. I couldn’t go around in public in my own Andalite form. Humans would have been terrified. And the Controllers – those humans who are infested by the Yeerk parasites – would have tried to kill me.

Which would have ruined the entire movie experience.

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

I’d almost put this down as a win for the Yeerks due to the massive lost opportunity to take out Visser Three. But instead I’ll just leave the scorecard unchanged.

Rating:

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

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