Megamorphs #2: “In the Time of Dinosaurs”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1998
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: We could blame everything that happened on Marco. He was the one who heard about the downed submarine. He was the one who thought we should check it out. And everyone knows that if Marco’s up to a challenge, I’m definitely there.
Everything was going fine. Until the explosion. An explosion that blows us millions of years back in time. Back to the age of dinosaurs. Now Tobias, Cassie, Marco, Ax, Jake and I are fighting for our lives with every step we take. But that’s not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is we have no idea how to get back to our own time ..
Plot: I’ve been looking forward to this one! I have very clear memories of reading (and re-reading!) it as a kid and always having a blast. I mean, dinosaurs, what’s not to love?
As I started putting together this review, I noticed that the plot description above is written from Rachel’s perspective. Kind of an interesting choice. Often the default main character is Jake, and, as we will soon learn, Tobias would make the most sense as a primary character for this book specifically. But we have Rachel here. Don’t know if that means anything, but worth noting!
As the plot describes, the Animorphs here about a nuclear sub sinking off their local coastline. As dolphins they help the divers locate the sub, but as they are retreating, it suddenly goes off and blows them all into unconsciousness. When they wake up, they begin to notice some strange things. It was stormy originally, and now it’s bright sunshine. The water is more clear, even after a bomb going off? And…there’s a massive volcano on the shoreline. All of this falls to the background when a gigantic sea creature shows up with obvious plans to eat them. And it succeeds, managing to gobble down Rachel and Tobias before the others can react. The rest of the manages to escape and make it to land. At this point in the book, the story lines split between the main group (Jake, Cassie, Marco and Ax) and Tobias and Rachel (who obviously manage to escape by Rachel’s quick thinking to morph a grizzly and literally tear her way out).
Jake, Cassie, Marco, and Ax all grieve the loss of Rachel and Tobias. It hits Cassie the hardest, feeling that she’s lost her best friend. But they have bigger problems when they notice a wide trail cut through the forest with some massive footprints along with it. The whole mystery is solved once and for all when a T-Rex shows up and chases them. Marco almost gets eaten and is only saved by Ax managing to slash up the T-Rex when it was distracted and taking it down. Cassie goes into survival mode at this point, focusing on the practicalities of their situation. She instructs the others to cut shoes for themselves using the T-Rex hide and to make a fire to cook some of the meat for them to eat. They camp out for the night, scared and still grieving Rachel and Tobias. The fact that they have discovered where, and when, they are and realized that the blast must have opened a Sario Rip that threw them to the past is of little comfort.
Meanwhile, after the injured sea monster beached itself, allowing Rachel and Tobias to escape to land, the two are wandering around looking for the others. Tobias’s wing was broken when he was swallowed and for some reason morphing doesn’t heal it as it usually would. But he does have all the dino knowledge and is able to name the sea creatures and figure out that they are in the late Cretaceous period. (He read about and played with dinosaurs when he stayed with his drunk uncle who would yell at him if he was noticed). Rachel’s feet get very cut up by walking barefoot, but in good old Rachel fashion, she doesn’t complain. They spot smoke from a fire (the other Animorphs’ fire) and start heading towards it, only to be surrounded by a group of pack-hunting dinosaurs called (according to Tobias) Deinonychus. So, raptors, essentially.
Tobias is able to quickly understand these other predators’ plan of attack and tells Rachel to head for the forest where the raptors will lose their visuals on each other. Then he has her throw him up in a tree, run, and morph grizzly. He manages to drop onto a raptor that passes beneath him and acquire it. Then, getting lost in the morph, he runs to join the pack that has now surrounded grizzly!Rachel. He attacks Rachel and kills the raptor leader before coming to himself. He manages to force another raptor to allow Rachel to acquire it and then they both escape. Rachel is grumpy and not pleased at all by the fact that Tobias attacked her. They wander through the night.
Jake, Marco, Cassie, and Ax sleep through the night in shifts. After it gets dark, they notice a huge comet in the sky. Using his science knowledge, Ax estimates that the comet will get very close, but won’t hit Earth. In the early morning, they see a flash of light on the horizon, but before they can think much about it, they get caught in a stampede of long-neck herbivores being chased by yet another T-Rex. This time Jake almost gets eaten, ending up partially swallowed and only managing to escape by morphing tiger and slashing up its throat from inside. This injures the T-Rex enough that they are all able to sneak up on it and acquire it one by one. Ax then informs them that the flash of light was artificial, and they wander towards it. They come across a massive ravine and large valley that shocks them with its contents: a small alien civilization! They morph bird and fly down to check it out.
Meanwhile, Rachel and Tobias run into yet another dinosaur predators, a Spinosaurus. It tries to attack them, but as they go to fight back, an alien creature intercedes, stuns the dinosaur, and tells them that they can’t hurt it as it, and everything on this planet, belongs to them. The alien isn’t too nice, so Rachel attacks it in her raptor morph only to have it disintegrate essentially. It turns out that the alien is made up entirely of ants. Its evil ant alien friends show up in a ship and start shooting at Rachel and Tobias. They flee and end up jumping off the same ravine cliff that the others are now circling as birds. Tobias manages to snag the wings of a passing flying dinosaur and use it as a living hang glider, slowing his and Rachel’s decent. They land on a force field that is projected above the alien city. The bird-morphed others happily reunite with Rachel and Tobias.
Their happy little reunion is interrupted by the strange crab-like aliens who live in the city in the valley. They call themselves the Mercora, and through them the Animorphs learn about what exactly is going on. The Mercora had recently settled on this planet after fleeing their own which was destroyed. The ant-aliens that Rachel and Tobias ran into are a scavenger race called the Nesk that dislike all other sentient species and are trying to wipe out the Mercora. At the present, the two species are at a standoff. The Mercora are a very peaceful race, but they do know the Nesk have powerful weaponry, so the Animorphs devise a plan to sneak into the Nesk base as dinosaurs and steal a bomb to set off that would hopefully close the Sario Rip and jump them back to their time.
The team set off the next morning. Tobias and Rachel morph their raptors, and the rest go T-Rex. Cassie struggles getting the morph under control and kills a triceratops. She has a bit of a break down, but gets it together just in time. They manage to get the bomb, but not without alerting the Nesk who chase after them. They only barely escape when the Mercora show up in a ship and whisk them back to the city. The Nesk abruptly leave the planet; they suspect this is because they are intimidated by thew “new powerful friends” of the Mercora. But they aren’t willing to let the Mercora win. Tobias sees a flash of light go off near the comet and knows what has happened. The Nesk have blown the comet closer to Earth and it will now hit in a day or so, exactly on the Mercora city. The Mercora ask the Animorphs for the bomb they stole so they can fly it up and repel the asteroid. The group votes. Rachel and Marco are against it and the others are for it (though Tobias whispers something to Ax, and the two of them don’t argue much about the whole thing, just quietly agree).
After the Mercora have left with the bomb, Tobias confesses that he had Ax rig the bomb not to blow. Jake and Cassie are furious, but Tobias explains that this has to happen for humanity to exist. The time period is right and there is no evidence of the Mercora people, so the asteroid that hit had to have hit the city. Ergo, it is this asteroid and it has to happen. They fly through the night and then switch to dolphin and swim out to see right before it hits. They all expect to either die immediately or have to suffer through the slow death of the planet.
Instead, the blast closes the Sario Rip and the group fast forwards through time, seeing the dinosaurs die off and humans evolve. They witness first hand the vast difference in time spent on Earth: the dinosaurs were around for 140 million years, and humans have been there for less than 1 million. Upon return, none of them have their dinosaur morphs and more.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s big moment comes when he’s yet another member of the team that almost/partially gets eaten by a dinosaur and he manages to take down the T-Rex, thus allowing them all to acquire this morph. Ax also spends some time in one of his chapters admiring Jake’s leadership abilities, specifically his knowledge that making no decision when presented with tough choices is the same as making a decision itself. Towards the end of the book, Jake also acknowledges a sense of gratitude for Tobias making the decision to rig the bomb not to explode. He’s angry at him, but knows that Tobias has saved him from having to be angry at himself. Already in the series we have seen how heavily these tough choices are weighing on him, so this is at least one that he doesn’t need to carry. But I will ding him for not putting 2 and 2 together in the first place and being one of the only two members of the group to vote to give over the bomb sincerely. Yes, it’s a tough choice, but the pieces aren’t that hard to put together and Cassie isn’t known for her clear thinking on things like this.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, poor Rachel always seems to take a beating in these Megamorph stories. She gets eaten alive, has to chew her way out, gets her feet torn to shreds repeatedly, and then has her own quasi-boyfriend attack her when he’s in morph. With all the time devoted to Rachel and Tobias’s adventures, we really start to see how these two work together. Rachel, of course, drives forward with action, while Tobias is more prone to thinking things through. What makes the difference, however, is that Tobias admires Rachel’s drive, whereas many of the others see it more as a liability. The two work well together.
Also when they’re fleeing the Nesk base and it’s looking bad, Rachel turns back to help the others. She’s in one of the smaller morphs, but her reasoning is this:
<Exactly,> I agreed grimly. <Maybe if they’re shooting at me, one of the others will get away.>
This is a perfect example of the best side of Rachel’s “go for it attitude.” It’s not all gusto; much of the time it’s a legitimate desire to save others at the expense of her own safety.
A Hawk’s Life: I have to think that Applegate was trying to make things up to poor Tobias who was literally written off the page as sleeping through most of the action in the first Megamorphs book. Here, he really comes into his own. Not only does he know the most about the time period and the dinosaurs in it, but he also proves to be the one best able to adapt to and understand his new circumstances. He quickly evaluates the hunting style of the raptors that come after him and Rachel and is able to think of an effective counter plan. And then, most importantly, he’s the first one to really put together the pieces of where things are likely heading, even before they attack the Nesk and they blow the comet towards Earth. He’s dropping warnings everywhere, even making sure to warn the others not to tell the Mercora that they’re from future Earth when they first meet them. And he steps up in the most major way when he puts into motion the plan to rig the bomb not to explode. He knows the others will be angry, and he knows that he is single-handedly dooming an entire species to die. I’ve said it before, but as the series progresses, and especially as Jake begins to stagger under the weight of leadership, Tobias is a natural second choice. In some ways, I think he would have been the strongest leader from the beginning. Jake’s connection to Cassie does lead him down some questionable paths at times, where as Tobias is almost always thinking clearly and practically, without losing his own empathy.
Peace, Love, and Animals: After Tobias, Cassie also adapts best to the new world. She knows the most about surviving in the wild and is the one that ends up mostly leading the second group of characters. Jake steps back when it’s clear that Cassie knows a lot more about the necessities like making fire and finding food. She is also the character to be most upset by the loss of Rachel and Tobias. Jake and Marco refer to this in their chapters, but at every point, Cassie is feeling the loss most keenly. This just reinforces my view that Cassie is at her best when her character is focused on her friendship with Rachel. This relationship reads true and has a lot of depth. Plus, when they reunite, we get this fun moment:
We were all treated to the utterly bizarre sight of an osprey attempting to hug a dinosaur.
When she breaks down after killing the triceratops, she and Marco get into quite a spat about violence, humanity, and survival. They both take it pretty far. Marco doesn’t hold back, at one point scornfully telling Cassie to “get over it.” And Cassie’s reasoning is also questionable under close evaluation. She says some good things about humanity and our ability to look beyond simple survival. But as a nature lover, I’m always put off by her inability to understand, and more importantly, respect the circle of life and all of that. She too regularly demonizes any/all killing, even that of animals who do it to stay alive. I still haven’t forgiven her for getting mad at Tobias for eating the baby skunks. #NeverForgive #NeverForget
Not surprisingly, she’s also one of the two who votes for giving away the bomb. But she also recognizes what Tobias has done when he confesses his plan. She thanks him even, but then says she’s not sure if she was sincere or sarcastic and that she’s not sure he knew either. Which, why Cassie?? Why to be a jerk to someone who saved you from having to make a tough call on your own.
The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have many big moments in this book. He makes his requisite number of jokes, and then probably most notably gets into that argument with Cassie. His stark pragmatism just doesn’t mesh with her more empathetic approach to life. He and Rachel are also firmly on the same side about not handing over the bomb to the Mercora. Seriously, these two. Is there ever a major decision that they’re not on the same side of? Even Tobias and Rachel have found themselves on opposite sides (recently the argument re: using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, but even there Rachel and Marco were on the same side). I think Marco and Ax get the fewest chapters in this book. But Marco had a lot of action in the first Megamorphs, so maybe that’s just fair.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some pretty big moments, the first of which is taking down the T-Rex single-handedly. But immediately afterwards, he is very emphatic, even scared, when informing the others that this was just a fluke, that they shouldn’t expect him to be able to do it again. He also becomes increasingly exasperated with their expectation that he should know every alien species in the universe. The Nesk and the Mercora are millions of years ahead of the Andalites even, so how could he know? I have to imagine that it’s his close friendship with Tobias that makes him trust his judgement enough to go against Jake’s decision and rig the bomb. For someone who is so ruled by authority figures, this is a pretty major move that is never really acknowledged in the book.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Just the sheer volume of swallowed alive experiences in this book! Rachel and Tobias are the only ones to go full hog, as it were, and end up in the stomach, so the descriptions of being burned by the stomach acid and crushed by the massive stomach stones of the dinosaur are pretty had with this one. But Jake also ends up halfway down a T-Rex throat and essentially gets vomited back up. And Marco also ends up in a T-Rex mouth at one point, though he has the best (if you can even ever say that about something like this) go of it, never making it further than between the teeth.
Couples Watch!: Obviously, we get a lot of good Tobias/Rachel action with the two of them paired off for much of the book. Rachel doesn’t comment on it much, but Tobias makes a couple of mental remarks about his admiration for Rachel, both her perseverance when she’s getting cut up by the saw glass and has a hawk clawing up her shoulder, and the fact that she manages to look great while doing it.
Cassie and Jake don’t have much. When they first discover the Mercora city, Cassie wants to morph bird and explore it on her own because she doesn’t want to lose…anyone else. Marco rightly calls her on the fact that she’s probably a bit less concerned about him and Ax.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three isn’t even in this book! It’s kind of strange, but also a welcome change up from the usual where he always appears in the last third of every story. Instead, the villains of this are the Nesk (yes, they run away from more T-Rexes than anything, but they’re just doing their due predator diligence). It’s kind of funny that the Nesk end up being ants. It’s like K.A. Applegate was just trying to think of the worst thing and, obviously, ants!
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Obviously the poor Mercora have a rough time of it. As a people, they seemed very decent, which just underscores how hard the decision is to let them die. But, bizarrely, it’s the very last scene when we’re flash-forwarding and the team witness the last T-Rex wandering, thin and alone, and then finally falling down that gets me the most. One of the Animorphs even mention that even though they were attacked repeatedly by T-Rexes, they were most sad for these amazing creatures that were so confident in themselves and their place on Earth. I don’t know why, but it was making me tear up. I think I have too clear an image of all of this from that one Fantasia skit about the dinosaurs.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, again, Tobias has 2 for 2, with the best plans! (This one, and his well-thought out plan to save the Hork Bajir back in his own book). There aren’t too many out and out “terrible” plans though. I disagree with Cassie and Jake’s vote and their lack of foresight on that one, but it’s not a bad plan in and of itself. Probably the worst plan is why they all didn’t think of trying to get some dinosaur morphs earlier in the book. That, and why they didn’t just spend most of their time in bird morph which would have been an easy way to avoid most of the bad dinosaur interactions.
<Yeah. Right.> I waited for him to laugh at his own joke. Only he didn’t laugh. <Dinosaurs?>
<Oh, man. Tobias, we are gonna need some better morphs.>
Yes, Rachel! Now why didn’t you all just do this??
Best summation of the craziness of their lives:
<Okay, everyone just keep moving like we’re dinosaurs.>
<Which thanks to the fact that our lives are totally, completely INSANE, we actually are,”> Marco said.
Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9
No score change! This is the first book where the Yeerks aren’t even around!
Rating: I liked this Megamorphs book better than the first. I mean, you really can’t go wrong by adding dinosaurs. It’s also a refreshing change to not have the Yeerks and Visser Three involved. Plus the morality questions raised in this book, and the fact that time travel like this always opens up its own can of worms. Did they always go back in time and do this and that’s why humanity existed? I also liked the fact that the group was split up in more interesting combinations this time around. Not having Rachel wandering around with amnesia and Tobias literally sleeping the whole time are pretty big improvements on their won. Not the best Megamorphs, from what I can remember, but definitely not the worst!
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!