Kate’s Review: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer”

36100937Book: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” by Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Studios, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The legacy of Frankenstein’s monster collides with the sociopolitical tensions of the present-day United States.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beseeched his creator for love and companionship, but in 2017, the monster has long discarded any notions of peace or inclusion. He has become the Destroyer, his only goal to eliminate the scourge of humanity from the planet. In this goal, he initially finds a willing partner in Dr. Baker, a descendant of the Frankenstein family who has lost her teenage son after an encounter with the police. While two scientists, Percy and Byron, initially believe they’re brought to protect Dr. Baker from the monster, they soon realize they may have to protect the world from the monster and Dr. Baker’s wrath.

Written by lauded novelist Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver, The Ballad of Black Tom), Destroyer is a harrowing tale exploring the legacies of love, loss, and vengeance placed firmly in the tense atmosphere and current events of the modern-day United States.

Review: Victor LaValle is an author whom I greatly enjoy, as I don’t think I’ve read one thing by him that underwhelmed me. I really liked his mental institution horror story “The Devil In Silver”, I found “The Ballad of Black Tom” to be a fun deconstruction of a racist Lovecraft tale, and I REALLY liked “The Changeling” and how it made a modern day dark fairy tale out of New York City. So when my friend Tami told me that he had written a graphic novel that decided to take on “Frankenstein”, I absolutely had to read it. It was a long wait at the library, but when “Destroyer” finally came in I sat down and devoured it in one setting. Even if it ran me through the wringer and then some. I guess I never thought about how “Frankenstein” could be combined with present day socio-political themes, and yet LaValle meshed them so well that I was blown away.

The Monster has emerged from the Arctic in modern times, and his former longing of being included and understood has been thrown out the window. He is a beast that is intent on destruction of the human race, as he believes that it has wronged him, as well as everything else around it, and does not deserve to go on. In contrast, we meet a modern day descendent of Victor Frankenstein. Her name is Dr. Baker, and she, too, has her heart set on destroying the society that she has continuously wronged her. For her, though, that is mostly because she lost her son Akai after a witness mistook his little league bat for a gun, and police killed him. Her science experiment has brought Akai back from the dead, though her scientific genius has made him a wonder of modern technology as well as an undead twelve year old. It’s the perfect metaphor for the rage and despair that parents like her have felt over and over again, and her urge to destroy every part of the racist society that destroyed her life. Her rage and plotting is utterly terrifying, but damn does it make sense. I loved Dr. Baker, as you get to see her life before Akai’s death through flashbacks, including her time at a top scientific research organization (that basically fired her when she got pregnant, because heaven forbid a woman in a STEM profession want to start a family). That organization has also stolen her ideas and technology and intends to use it against her, which is another indictment of power structures stealing ideas from groups that it wrongs. LaValle does a very good job of showing how she could go from a bright eyed and enthusiastic young scientist to a revenge intent victim, and while I don’t think he ever makes it seem like her urge to kill everyone in society is correct, he makes you really understand why she’d feel that way.

Dr. Baker a great juxtaposition to The Monster, who has also decided to take a path of destruction because of his grievances. It takes those themes of science gone too far and what makes a monster and applies them to a T. Hell, the other little homages are also on point, like the names of the agents Percy and Byron, named for the two men to whom Mary Shelley first shared her vision of a Modern Prometheus. The Easter eggs are plentiful, and I had a hell of a time finding them. It’s a really fun thought exercise about what The Monster would possibly be like today if it finally left the Arctic, and boy is it bleak. I don’t know if I really like the idea of The Monster being reduced to, well, a monstrous/brainless being, because far too often has Shelley’s vision been misinterpreted from the thinking, and therefore plagued, creature of her intention. But in this case, I think that LaValle does it in a way that would be a potential foregone conclusion, and it does add to the symbolism all the more.

I really enjoyed the art work that Dietrich Smith brought to this story. It felt sufficiently comic book, but it also had bits of depth and darkness and shadow that conveyed various points of tragedy and sadness. I also liked the more abstract design of the cover (done by Micaela Dawn), though the drawing style inside was the design that I preferred. The details from the gore and the violence to the varied facial expressions are very well done.

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“Destroyer” is a superb reinterpretation of a classic story of horror and tragedy, and LaValle has once again shown his talent and retelling stories with a socially conscious lens that reflects today’s ills. It’s another update of “Frankenstein” that I think Mary Shelley would appreciate.

Rating 8: A dark and biting retelling of “Frankenstein”, “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” takes a classic story and applies it to modern social justice themes with powerful results.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” is included on the Goodreads lists “Frankenstein Revisionist Novels”, and “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”.

Find “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #44: “The Unexpected”

343182Animorphs #44: “The Unexpected”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs have been split up before. And they’ve had to fight battles without one another. But this time is very different. Not only is Cassie totally alone. She’s managed to find herself in Australia. In the rural Outback. The other Animorphs and Ax don’t even know she’s there.

Cassie doesn’t have any idea where she’s going, or if she can even survive the rugged terrain. But she does know she has to get to a town or village and contact her family and friends. Because she’s just realized that there’s someone else who is also new to the Outback.

Visser Three.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Well, we’ve reached what is almost unanimously known as one of the most useless books in the series. Not the most hated. Not the most controversial. Just the most…useless. Again, I had very few memories of this book, but it’s not because I actually blocked anything out this time. Just not very much happens!

Me after realizing that we’re halfway through the book and Cassie hasn’t even reached the Outback.

Cassie and co. are on a mission at the airport to try and capture a chunk of a broken Bug Fighter that the military has gotten its hands on. Of course, the Yeerks are there too with the same thing in mind. Everything goes south, however, when a gun fight breaks out between the Marines and the incoming Controllers. Jake calls for a retreat, but seagull!Cassie doesn’t want to leave the innocent Marines behind. She tries to get involved (ugh, by pooping on a Controller), but ends up shot and having to partially de-morph to make an escape using a luggage cart. Chased by Yeerks, she ends up hiding beneath a pile of luggage and trying to make herself demorph as she passes out.

An unknown amount of time later, she wakes up fully human, but freezing and still under the luggage. She then realizes that she’s on a plane, and what’s worse, the plane is in flight. While trying to figure out what to do, the plane suddenly stops moving and a green scanner sweeps through. She ends up partially paralyzed and realizes the Yeerks have followed her, knowing that an “Andalite bandit” is stashed somewhere on the plane. She decides to go Rachel’s route and morphs a polar bear. When the Yeerks open the cargo bay door, she attacks. She manages to take out several Hork Bajir and forces them to retreat, blowing up a Bug fighter on the way. However, she knows they’ll be back. She scratches up the inside of the cargo bay, hoping to make it look like she fell out with the Hork Bajir in the fight. When the green light strikes again, she hides and makes her way up to the passenger level.

Unfortunately, the Yeerks have a monitor that tracks movement and they are able to spot something going up. As a human girl, she quickly sits down in an empty seat and pretends to be frozen. This mostly works until the Controllers decide to start tazing the passengers, looking for a flinch. Cassie times her attack of the Hork Bajir doing the tazing in an effort to escape. She manages to get away and dives out one of the emergency exits, morphing osprey on her way down. In a deep canyon, she finds a crevice and hides out as flea. After waiting as long as she can, she emerges and demorphs, only to realize she’s been spotted by a local boy named Yami.

Yami is unphased, saying that his grandfather has taught him about the spirits of the Outback that can change their forms, so a girl who can turn into an osprey must be special. He also informs Cassie where she is: Australia. Yami offers to take her back to his place where she can make a plan from there. On the way, they pass a mob of kangeroos and Cassie sees a mother and joey that have gotten stuck in some fencing. She manages to release it while also acquiring it. Yami sees her ability to calm the wild animal as further proof of her supernatural origins. They head back to Yami’s home where she meets his family and the aforementioned grandfather.

The next day, she wakes up and knows she needs to find a way back home. It turns out that the Bug fighter she took out in the air had crashed nearby and taken out the radio transmitter that Yami and his family use to communicate with the outside world. Without it, she’ll have to a wait a week for the mail delivery people to come by. She forms a plan to morph the kangaroo that night and make her way to the nearest city, which is is about 70 miles away. During the day, Yami and his grandfather gift Cassie a boomerang and show her how to use it. While they are practicing, she sees several small airplanes flying overhead. Yami says they are tourists and they usually fly out in the morning and will fly back over later that night.

As the practice, Yami’s grandfather suddenly collapses. Cassie and Yami bring him back to the house where they discover a badly infected cut on his leg that Yami’s grandfather says came from a strange piece of metal he found out in the wilderness; Cassie recognizes it as part of the downed Bug fighter. The leg worsens throughout the day until finally, near the end of the day, Cassie realizes that they have no choice but to amputate. She morphs Hork Bajir for both the blades and strength to complete the task. Yami looks on with fear, but helps Cassie perform the surgery. Yami’s grandfather quickly starts to look better. But before she can think of a next step, the Blade ship arrives and she hears Visser Three’s voice booming out insisting that the “Andalite” show itself or he will destroy everything in sight.

Cassie morphs the kangaroo and tries to lead the Yeerks away. Hork Bajir and Taxxons give chase. She ends up in a mob of other kangaroos all of which also attack the Yeerks, some dying in the process. She manages to take out a few herself before becoming injured. Yami, his family, and his dog come to the rescue, killing a few Hork Bajir with their boomerangs. However, it won’t be enough. Luckily, the returning tourists are spotted and Cassie hears Visser Three calling for a retreat and speedy clean-up of the area. She manages to demorph just as familiar member of the Chee shows up, saying he caught a ride with the Yeerks and is here to take Cassie home.

Back home, Cassie and the rest meet up at the zoo. Cassie had wanted to go “shopping,” which Rachel was disappointed to learn meant “getting a postcard from the zoo.” The team tease Jake about his frantic search for Cassie while she was missing and he asks to see the postcard she purchased: it is of an osprey an on it she has written two words: “No worries.” It’s a phrase that Yami repeated many times throughout her stay, and she knows that he will recognize it and know the card is from her and that she is safe.

Peace, Love, and Animals: For all of its rather boring plot and lack of contribution to the larger story, I actually liked this book for what it had to offer for Cassie’s character. Again, we have Cassie on her own. (I still really don’t understand why this is a repeated theme for this character. It’s rarely a good thing for ANY of them, but I also think Cassie in particular is less suited for it.) But throughout the story, we see her evaluating her options against what other members of the team would do: Rachel’s penchant for action, Marco’s deliberation, Jake’s caution, etc.

We also get to see some clever thinking on her part when it comes to escaping the Yeerks on the plane. I think there might have been a few better options to be had, but on her own, she did fairly well. She also has to fight one-on-one with several Controllers and, while she does struggle with this (especially the fact that she shoots a Hork Bajir with a Dracon beam that was set on high and instantly killed him), she also doesn’t get too caught up in things.

It’s also always fun seeing her doctoring abilities come out, and she’s given a great platform for that with her amputation of the grandfather’s leg using her Hork Bajir morph. Again, not sure that that was the only option there and that using actual knives like a real doctor wouldn’t have been better. But it was a cool combination of morph mechanics and Cassie’s medical abilities.

Our Fearless Leader: We see Jake abort a mission early in the book, something that doesn’t come around that often. But it does lead to the interesting idea that there are a lot of missions that could have happened between books that just went down as failures and wouldn’t be written about. Like this one, if Cassie hadn’t, you know, ended up in Australia.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There were some good bits of dialogue for Rachel both in the first part of the book when she makes fun of Marco’s driving and in the end, when she bemoans Cassie’s definition of “shopping.” There’s also a really interesting moment about halfway through the book where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices and how, as a whole, they don’t all make sense, but she just had to make up her mind with each individual situation, without knowing what new horrible choice would come from that first one. Ultimately, she notes that she might be more reckless than Rachel, even though Rachel is the one with the reputation for rashness. Rachel’s recklessness presents as bravery to the point of foolishness and a preference for action above all. But Cassie realizes that some of even her more deliberative choices ultimately are more reckless than Rachel’s “go get em” attitude. It’s a really interesting character moment. And it speaks to one of the annoyances I’ve had throughout the series both with regards to the increasingly bad reputation that Rachel has gotten for being reckless and the free pass that Cassie has also been given for making what are ultimately way more dangerous decisions. It’s nice to have the book acknowledge this, as well as Cassie herself.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really had nothing in this book. He jumps on the “tease Jake” bandwagon with Rachel in the end about the fact that Jake was behaving “like a zombie” when Cassie was missing. His description of Jake’s behavior was pretty funny, and it’s always nice to see Tobias’s snarky side come out.

The Comic Relief: Gorilla!Marco ends up careening around driving a luggage truck in the opening mission in this book. It’s a nice nod to the fact that somehow Marco always ends up driving (not just when he’s in gorilla morph either!). And apparently he hasn’t improved at all, which is a bit surprising because you’d think they’d all be coming up to driver’s ed about now in the timeline.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax, too, has very little, other than the fairly typical scene of him trying to eat the popcorn carton when they’re all hanging out at the zoo in the end of the book.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: We’ve seen the Animorphs use partial de-morphs as a way to disguise their identity in the past, and it’s almost always sure to land in this section of my review. There’s no way around the sheer horror factor of what most of these half-morphs look like. But…I also have a deep fear of birds, so the idea of half-human, half-seagull Cassie lurching around on the tarmac…truly, truly horrific.

Couples Watch!: There were a few interesting things in this book. For one, we have the continued evidence that Rachel and Tobias are the more acknowledged, steady couple in the series. In the brief scene at the end of the book, we see them sitting together and teasing Jake and Cassie together, very confident in their own relationship. Jake and Cassie, on the other hand, are still nervous about even sitting next to each other and are still doing awkward things like putting their hands near each other and hoping the other one touches them. Jake even asks Cassie to stick around to “talk” and Rachel and Tobias jump on that saying he just wants to kiss Cassie.

The other notable bit is that while Yami is teaching Cassie to throw the boomerang they have a bit of a “moment,” enough of one even that Cassie feels mild guilt about it when she gets back and the others are teasing Jake about his freak out while she was gone. She worries that she was essentially flirting while he was worrying.

Knowing what we do about the end of the series, both of these things are kind of interesting: the fact that Cassie and Jake are still, after several years at this point, kind of awkward and uncomfortable with their relationship and the fact that Cassie had this small connection with this other boy.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerks really commit to chasing down this one Andalite. I mean, given how often they run into conflicts with the Animorphs and they all end up going their own ways without extremes taken to chase each other down…this all seems a bit much. Especially after Cassie gets off the plane. There’s really zero reason that Visser Three should know to show up at Yami’s house thinking the “Andalite bandit” will be hiding out there. Why would they be? A rogue Andalite could have morphed any animal and be anywhere, most likely heading towards a major city to get back home (like Cassie’s plan is anyways). Really, the last place an Andalite would go would be to hang out with a bunch of humans on a ranch. It’s very strange.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The closest I came was probably the descriptions of the poor kangaroos that got taken out by Hork Bajir and Taxxons. And my extreme concern in that same fight when Yami’s dog got involved, and I couldn’t remember whether the dog survived.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I actually found the explanation for how Cassie ended up on the plane fairly plausible as far as strange things that happen in these books go. I do think she could have managed to get off it a bit easier, mostly be morphing a bug right next to the airlock so that when the door opened, even if they gassed the plane, she would be out in no time, and the Yeerks would have had no way of knowing.

It’s not so much a terrible plan, but the explanation of the Chee randomly showing up and getting her out of there has to be one of the most blatant examples of lazy writing. They literally show up out of nowhere, with no explanation for how they even knew to follow the Yeerks to Australia, and then there is still no explanation for how they really get back. I mean, Cassie’s still a minor with zero documentation off in Australia. It’s all pretty weird and best not think about, in the end.

Favorite Quote:

This was the main chunk of the bit where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices, and I think it’s pretty good. Just too bad that it got stuck in such a nothing book where I think many readers forget she even reflected on some of these things. Same thing goes for her comparison between herself and Rachel with regards to recklessness.

I’m not trying to be some kind of martyr, or say that I’m always a screwup. I’m not. In my world, making hard choices is part of the deal. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I just can’t tell, even when the mission is over and we’ve all come out alive, at least. Leave the Animorphs. Come back. Trust Aftran, the Yeerk. Trust her again. Take responsibility for the never-ending, always unfolding consequences of those decisions. Say, no, I can’t be part of this mission, can’t be part of a mass killing of innocent people no matter what the ultimate goal, I won’t. Get involved anyway, commit acts maybe much worse. Why? To save some lives, not others. A choice. There’s always a choice.

There’s also a good line from the grandfather when Cassie is freaking out that she lead the Yeerks right to them, and it’s a good line for not only Cassie to remember, but all of them, at one point or another.

“They’re here because of me.”

“No.”

Yami’s grandfather touched my arm. I looked down, startled. He drew a sharp breath. His face twisted in pain, but his eyes stayed bright and alert.

“They’re here because they’re evil.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

The Animorphs literally call this one a tie themselves, so I’ll stick with their rating.

Rating: There’s no getting around the fact that this book is incredibly slow. Cassie doesn’t even get to Australia until almost over halfway through the story. And for a book that is marketed completely on her adventures in Australia, that’s pretty disappointing. It’d almost be more realistic for it to be “Cassie’s adventures at an airport and on an airplane.” Beyond that, any book that separates one character away from the others is almost always worse. It’s even more depressing in this one because not only is Cassie not the strongest character on her own, but the brief bits we get of dialogue from the others is great, so the ghost writer clearly had a good handle on the group dynamics (something that is not always a given at this point). And, of course, this book does nothing to advance the ongoing story. Not to mention the hot garbage that is the explanation for how she gets back with some weird “the Chee did it!” handwave-solution.

But! As far as Cassie herself goes, there’s actually a good amount that I really enjoyed. She addresses her own past decisions and how a lot of the times they were contradictory and even more reckless than Rachel’s, and that adds a really nice layer to the character. She has some shining moments of having to choose to fight and accept that, as well as the great scene of her utilizing her badass medical knowledge.

One last thing, however, has to do with Yami and his family. With Cassie sending the postcard in the end, it’s assumed that Yami and his family are safe and well in the end. But…why would they be? Not only is the idea that the Yeerks just left them alive pretty out of place with our knowledge of how Visser Three and the Yeerks operate, but really Yami and his family are a massive liability for Cassie and the others! While they might think she has some strange spirit animal thing going on, a quick infestation of Yami or any of them would quickly bring down the whole house of cards. And, even more so than just kill them, again, why WOULDN’T the Yeerks infest these people? They know that Yami and his family were hiding the “Andalite,” so it seems like a pretty obvious source of information, at the very least. Oh well, chock it up as another “just don’t think too hard about it” moment, I guess.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #43: “The Test”

343437Animorphs #43: “The Test”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax have seen things so bizarre that no sane person would believe their story. No one would believe that aliens have taken over Earth, and are in the process of infesting as many humans as possible. No one could believe the battles and missions and losses these six kids have had to deal with. And it’s not over yet.

Tobias has been captured by the same human-Controller that nearly tortured him to death once before. She claims that she’s now a part of the Yeerk Peace Movement. That she just needs a favor. Tobias isn’t sure what to believe, but he knows that if the Animorphs and Ax don’t find him soon, what he believes won’t matter anymore…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Our favorite Yeerk psychopath/torturer is back! Taylor shows up once again and is ready and able to make Tobias’s already generally miserable existence that much worse.

Oh, Tobias books. Always good for all the feels.

On one of his usual fly-overs above the woods, Tobias stumbles upon a search and rescue attempt for a small boy who’s been lost. Communicating through thought-speak with the father, Tobias successfully leads rescuers to the kid. But he’s quickly taken out by a golden eagle. Luckily, the human rescuers save the “superhero hawk,” and Tobias awakes in a cage in the clinic. He sees on TV that his rescue has become a news story and knows that odd animal behavior like this is sure to attract the Yeerks. And sure enough, soon Hork Bajir barge into the clinic and nab his cage. On their way out, they’re attacked by the Animorphs who are there on a rescue mission. In the madness, Taylor, Tobias’s torturer/nemesis from several books ago, shows up and manages to knock out Tobias with a gas and steal him away. During the madness, however, Tobias manages to acquire Taylor.

He wakes up in a grimy trailer. Taylor proceeds to try to convince him that she is on the outs with the Yeerks, and that she and other Yeerks have decided to form a rebel force against leadership that they see as failing them. They want the “Andalite bandits” to help. She then opens the cage and lets Tobias go free. He immediately heads to Rachel’s house and the two decide to meet with the others.

At Cassie’s barn, after discussing the likelihood that Taylor is cray cray, Jake leaves the decision to Tobias. He decides that they need to hear more. Using a janky computer set-up that Ax has devised, they log in to a webpage that Taylor had given Tobias and leave a message board comment agreeing to meet up. They do so at  Borders bookstore where Tobias comes in his new Taylor morph while the others take up positions around the store. The two Taylors sit down and the real Taylor begins detailing her mission: she wants the “Andalites” to morph Taxxon and tunnel down to the Yeerk pool. Then she will release a natural gas pipeline leak that will explode, killing tons of Yeerks. In exchange for their help, Taylor will get them access to Visser Three. During the meeting, however, the real girl, Taylor, briefly breaks through and tries to warn Tobias off.

At the mall, the group meets up once again to decide whether to go through with Taylor’s plan. While expressing various levels of disgust and ruthlessness, they all decide on the mission, except for Cassie who refuses to participate. She briefly mentions that large number of human hosts will be killed, but focuses mostly on the idea that the Yeerk Peace movement might also be hurt by this action. She compares it to blowing up the mall that they’re all sitting in now. This makes everyone uncomfortable, but the others see the strategic advantage as too high to miss out on.

The next day, Ax and Tobias (in Andalite morph) meet up with Taylor to acquire a Taxxon she has captured. It goes about as well as expected, with Ax having to kill the Taxxon but both still managing to acquire it. They then meet up with the other Animorphs near the natural gas station to begin tunneling. Cassie is there to see where they will be working, but will be leaving, still refusing to participate.

Tobias morphs first and struggles to control the Taxxon morph. After almost killing his friends, he realizes that he will never be able to completely control the Taxxon’s all-consuming hunger, but instead can only direct it towards tunneling, eating the dirt as he goes. As he comes up against the two-hour time limit, he is just able to regain enough control to demorph. Then it is Ax’s turn. Ax, too, manages to gain cautious control of the Taxxon and begins tunneling. However, again, close to the two hour limit, the others realize that he’s lost some degree of control because he is not responding and has not returned to the surface to de-morph. They go after him, only to discover him almost passed out at the end of the tunnel. Turns out that Taxxons, in their crazed hunger, will literally kill themselves through exhausted eating of things that don’t contain nutrients, like dirt. They manage to get him to demorph, however, and Tobias once again takes over tunneling duty.

At last, he breaks into the top of the Yeerk pool. Looking down, he sees the usual chaos of weeping hosts and the horrible pool. But he also notices a large group of humans that look oddly calm, even determined. Before he has a chance to wonder too much about this, Taylor shows up and begins taunting him and trying to convince him in joining her attempt to take over the Yeerk Empire. When he refuses, she jabs him with her paralysis gas again and runs back up the tunnel. He tries to call out to warn the others, but they respond that they’ve already been paralyzed and are helpless to do anything.

Tobias manages to drag himself back up the tunnel. He catches up to her just as she reaches the gas line, but isn’t able to stop her before she blows a hole in it and toxic gas shoots out, knocking out the air and pushing them all back down the tunnel towards the Yeerk pool. The Animorphs all manage to catch on to each other through various holds and bites, and Taxxon!Tobias scrambles to keep hold on the tunnel walls, breaking off many legs in the process. Tobais’s Taxxon body is more able to handle the lack of clean air, and he manages to drag his barely conscious friends back up the tunnel to fresh air. They realize the gas has been turned off and all demorph.

They get to the main gas building and find  Controlled!humans laying on the floor, badly injured. In a back room, they find Cassie crying. She had turned off the gas and was struggling with having to viciously attack the people in the gas building to accomplish it.

The next day, Tobias and Rachel fly to a private beach that they have discovered. Once their, Rachel demorphs and Tobias morphs his human body. Rachel confirms that Jake had told Cassie that she could warn the Yeerk Peace group, and once she had, she discovered that all of the Yeerks in the movement had organized to feed at the pool on the same days. And one of those days was the day of Taylor’s attack. Taylor had been working with Visser Three the entire time and the plan had been to take out both the “Andalite bandits” and the Yeerk Peace movement all in one hit, pinning the disaster on the Yeerk Peace participants to boot. Rachel tries to reassure Tobias that they couldn’t have known, that they operated on the best information they had, and that through their actions they saved the Yeerk Peace group. Tobias wonders if Taylor survived. But, in the end, he and Rachel hold hands and agree that they can’t worry about what is done, but only move forward.

A Hawk’s Life: Per the usual, this Tobias book deep dives into all of the issues. I think this might be a reason why Tobias, Marco, and Jake books are often listed as the most popular by other fans. Each of these three have ongoing challenges that they face throughout the entire series, and it’s a rare book for any of them that doesn’t touch on one of the main themes important to that character. Marco’s, of course, is his mother. Jake’s is his struggles with leadership and his own growing ruthlessness. And Tobias has…a bunch! And, unlike Jake and Marco, every single Tobias book has one of these issues, if not multiple, at its heart.

Not only does he have the challenges of his life as a hawk, and with it, the biggest question of all “who is he?” But he also struggles with what lead to his life as a hawk. And then, after his book before this one, he continues to feel the psychological repercussions of his capture and torture at the hands of Taylor. These last two, cowardice and the PTSD from torture, are a big focus for him in this book.

Throughout the book, Tobias struggles with his ongoing reaction to being tortured by Taylor. He sees his own reaction as one of cowardice and weakness, one that only Taylor knows. Whether she actually thinks of him this way or not, we do see her clearly taking advantage of his insecurities on these points throughout the book. In response, Tobias also insists on being the one to interact with Taylor the most. All of these thoughts come to a head when he comes up to the Yeerk pool and is looking out over it with Taylor whispering her evil words into his ear. At the same time, he sees the spot where he hid out way back in book one and became stuck as a hawk. He questions whether this, too, was a form of cowardice. That he could have done more to avoid this fate, but some part of him was too scared to go back to the challenges of the life he had before.

There’s a lot of great exploration of all of these topics, and less than what one could hope for as far as resolutions go. There are a couple throw-away lines towards the end where Tobias resolves once again not to fret about the past, but we’ve all heard that before. However, even without reaching any grand conclusions, I really enjoyed the deeper look into Tobias’s psyche and the fact that the events from his torture session are still playing large in his mind, even before Taylor shows up.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s got some typical “big leader moments,” what with knowing that Tobias ultimately needs to be the one to decide whether to go forward with working with Taylor, to accepting the fact that Cassie disagrees with their plan to the point of refusing to participate, but decides that the group will go on without her. There’s also a pretty dark moment, pretty important in the grand scheme of things, that if Tom is a victim of this attack, that is a risk worth taking for the larger advantage.

For all of that, this book sits very oddly with the last Jake book being the one that handled the topic of terrorism so thoroughly. Throughout his entire last book, Jake struggled with the question of terrorism and its role in warfare. He also was routinely horrified by it and saw it as one of the biggest markers of how wrong things had gone in that alternate reality. But here, in what is clearly the biggest act of terrorism the Animorphs would have ever participated in (hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent humans and Hork Bajir, and others, would die in this attack), he doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on the matter or references to his past struggles. Perhaps if his terrorism book had come earlier in the series, it would be easier to buy that he had hardened himself since then to making decisions like this. But…it was literally two books ago. It reads as really strange.

Xena, Warrior Princess: We see Rachel operating as Tobias’s primary support system throughout the book. She’s the one who constantly turns to him to see how he is dealing with the whole Taylor business, and she’s the one to talk him around in the end.

But we also seem some interesting shifts for herself throughout the book. It’s no surprise that she’s one of the first ones to be on-board for the mission when they are discussing next steps in the mall. Action is always preferred to inaction for Rachel, and she (with Marco and often Jake) is more likely to fall on the ruthless side of things as far as necessary sacrifices in war. But we also see her have a pretty major breakdown about three-fourths of the way through the book, questioning whether they are doing the right thing. It’s a really nice moment that serves as a reminder that a well-drawn portrayal of Rachel’s character can, and should, include more than just her ruthless (often shown as “mindless”) streak.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s some pretty good stuff for Cassie’s character in this book. One thing I did find very strange, however, was the focus of her objections when they all met to discuss Taylor’s plans in the mall. From a reader perspective, it seems pretty clear that her focus on the Yeerks Peace movement was a not very subtle way for the author to hint that that was going to come up as a thing later in the book. This group isn’t referenced too often, so it makes some sense to bring them up early on. But…as far as characterization goes, it ends up playing very oddly for Cassie herself. She gets out maybe one line about the innocent humans who will die in this attack before switching the entire rest of her argument to the  Yeerks Peace movement. And as a natural thought process or argument, it reads very oddly and makes Cassie seem to have strange, if even condemnable, priorities towards the “good” Yeerks over innocent human victims. Beyond making it seem like her own values are out of line, this argument is always going to be a harder sell to the rest of the Animorphs, who, while impressed by Cassie’s ability to form a connection with a Yeerk, have no personal attachments of their own. As a character who we know is a keen manipulator, a Cassie free from needing to do authorial work with foreshadowing would have known that pressing the innocent human line would have been a better route to convincing the others.

There’s also the moment in the end where Cassie saves them all by taking matters into her own hands. This is the kind of story that would have been great to read from Cassie’s perspective! She would have had some great insights into the humanity of choices like this with regards to the larger mission, but then would have to challenge her own values with the choice to attack human Controllers to save the Yeerk pool and her friends. Really, the more I write about it, the more I can just envision this as a Cassie book and wish we had it, especially given the general weakness of most of her books.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. Even the number of jokes he has is pretty tamped down. This kind of makes sense since Marco is definitely one of the characters with a more peripheral relationship with Tobias.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the other Animorph to get to experience the joy that is morphing Taxxon. He manages to discover that the Taxxons have a hibernation state that allows him to gain more control over the morph, but then, in the end, he, too, succumbs to the morph and almost dies/passes the time limit when he gets stuck at the end of the tunnel. There’s also an interesting little bit where he cuts off some of Andalite!Tobias’s fur in an effort to make Tobias look less like an identical copy of Ax when they go to meet Taylor. He explains that cutting fur is a form a discipline that serves as a reminder of wrong-doing until the fur grows back out and the offense is forgotten. Just another interesting little tid-bit of Andalite society!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Obviously all of the Taxxon stuff. Not only morphing the disgusting Taxxon body, but the entire experience. Looking at it, though, I couldn’t help but start to wonder how Taxxons even exist, biologically speaking. The hunger thing seems to strong that it would override every other natural instinct. As we saw with Ax, Taxxons will literally kill themselves through futile eating of non-nutrient rich things, like dirt. We’ve seen them cannibalize themselves at the slightest injury as well. How are they not extinct??

Couples Watch!: We get a handful of sweet, little moments for Tobias and Rachel throughout the story. For one, the first thing he does when Taylor releases him in the beginning of the book is to fly to Rachel’s. Together, they decide what to do from there. Thoughts of Rachel are also the only thing that breaks through the hunger-haze when he first morphs Taxxons. He gets caught up in the hunger and imaging eating his friends, but when he gets to Rachel, it stops him up short and gives him just enough of a break to regain control. And then, obviously, at the end we have the two of them on their private beach, holding hands and talking themselves through what could have been a huge disaster of a mission.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Taylor is the real villain of this book, even if the plan behind it all is laid at Visser Three’s feet. Taylor is a very interesting villain in her own right, as she was given quite a bit of page time and backstory in her first book. Here, we get further glimpses into her madness. However, many of these glimpses ultimately ended up just being frustrating teases. We get the brief break-through from the real Taylor at the bookstore, where she warns Tobias away (why this isn’t given more weight when they’re all considering what to do would also fit under the “Terrible Plan” segment). And Tobias himself wonders several times about the breakdown between Yeerk and girl. Before, Taylor was a willing host, having chosen this reality to restore her beauty. But clearly something has gone wrong since, and she’s fighting against her Yeerk. This is really interesting! And it goes…nowhere. We never get any answers to this and it’s the kind of frustrating add-on that I wish had just been cut out. It doesn’t add anything to the story as it is, but instead just leaves annoying questions in its wake, making it feel like there was much more story to be had here than what we are ultimately given.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As we know, Tobias books are often big on the tears. This one’s discussion of cowardice and Tobias’s fears that he’s a coward at heart is pretty rough. Not only does he feel that he somehow “failed” while be tortured, exposing his “true nature” to his torturer, Taylor, but he also worries that he’s always been a coward. And that this cowardice was part of the reason that he ended up trapped as a hawk; he was too scared to approach life as a boy any longer. Beyond the obvious horrors of his human life (like living with his terrible aunt and uncle and the constant bullying), he even worries that part of him was scared of the joy, too, like being with Rachel. In some of the previous books, we’ve seen him deal with the fact that his hawk form has allowed him to keep careful control on that relationship, both to Rachel’s frustration and to his own shame. The moments when he’s hanging out above the Yeerk Pool looking directly at the spot where he hid so long ago are pretty heart-wrenching.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a good number of awful plans in this book, both on the part of the Animorphs and the Yeerks. For one, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, it’s hard to buy that there weren’t more objections to the general terrible nature of the plan and the high human collateral it would entail.

Beyond that, they are all very willing to go along with a plan given to them by Taylor, someone they have a terrible history with. Not only does Taylor’s host break through at one point and literally warn them away, but they have no evidence that her plan is part of a larger revolt. They never meet any co-conspirators or see any proof that she’s not just operating on her own. What’s more, part of the carrot that is given for their cooperation is some vague promise that she will get them Visser Three. But..how? The whole explanation for her mission is that she’s on the outs. How exactly is she going to get them access to someone like Visser Three? And the Animorphs never even question this!

And then from the Yeerks’ perspective, the entire plan is very high risk, questionable reward. We know that Visser Three is happy enough to off Yeerks that displease him, but loosing the entire Yeerk Pool seems a bit much, even for him. Sure, he’s wiped out the Yeerk Peace movement, but he has to report back to the Council of Thirteen that a guerrilla group managed to blow up the entire Yeerk Pool under his watch…and bizarrely took themselves out with it? Not only does it not make sense, but it doesn’t paint in him a very good picture, and as we already know that his methods have been coming under question, it’s hard to see how this would benefit him. Beyond that, through Taylor’s successful contact with the Animorphs, there were much easier ways to simply lead that group into a trap. The successful capture of the “Andalite bandits” would do a whole heck of a lot more for him than taking out some Yeerk Peace movement members while losing the entire pool. And would have been super easy to pull off, considering how “all in” the Animorphs were with Taylor’s plan. I mean, at one point they were all lying paralyzed on the floor! How easy would it have been for Visser Three to swoop in and simply gather them all up?

Favorite Quote:

This book had a lot of good ruminations on a variety of topics, but I think some of the better parts had to do with fear and evil when Tobias was analyzing what makes up the heart of the Taxxon psyche and evil in general:

Yes, a fear. . . grossly exaggerated … beyond anything humans experience .. . a desperate fear of not having enough .. . a terror of starvation .. . a horror that your essential needs will go unfulfilled .. . a horror demented and contorted by the Taxxon mind until it became a sick, murderous evil.
Evil, even the worst evil, has banal origins every human can understand. Weakness. Fear. Insecurity.

Ax hooks up a janky computer set-up in the woods to contact Taylor initially, and the event ends with this utterly quotable line:

<The computer has, as you say, crashed,> Ax announced coolly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change! Both the Yeerks and the Animorphs had terrible instincts and plans in this book. I could easily justify taking a point away from each of them, but as that makes not overall difference, we’ll just leave things as they are.

Rating:  For all that it falls apart if you really start looking at things closely (like both the Animorphs’ and the Yeerks’ reasoning for all of these events, and the biological impossibility of the Taxxons), I really enjoyed this book. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, Tobias books are always good for a deeper look into a variety of pretty tough topics. And, unlike Cassie books, usually avoid coming off as preachy or self-righteous. For that matter, as I mentioned in the Cassie section above, this book would have succeeded tackling many of these topics AS a Cassie book. But I particularly enjoyed the analysis of fear and cowardice, and Tobias tying all of these various factors together in his worries that he is a coward: his being caught as a hawk, his handling of being tortured by Taylor the first time, how he has handled the events of this entire book. Just a lot of good stuff!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #42: “The Journey”

363389Animorphs #42: “The Journey”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Helmacrons need more power to escape the earth’s atmosphere, so they have returned to demand the morphing cube. When Rachel tries to destroy their ship, the tiny egomaniacs bail — right into Marco’s left nostril. And the other Animorphs have to get them out before the little aliens do some real damage.

Narrator: Rachel & Marco

Plot: We all know the story: a frizzle-haired teacher, a class of students, and a magical school bus that goes anywhere and makes even the most ridiculous things seem fun and cool. Sure, many of their adventures were legitimately cool on their own; who wouldn’t enjoy traveling to all of the planets! But some of them…definitely could have gone another way. And Animorphs is here to prove how!

I mean, I could get worked up. But like the Atlantis book, it’s just so wacky that why even bother?

The story starts off in the normal way: the team returning from yet another battle. But as they demorph in an alley, they are temporarily blinded by the flash of a camera. Some kid has taken a picture of them mid-morph! They chase after him, but he disappears into an apartment complex. The team sets up a state-out and agrees to meet up at Cassie’s barn the next day to discuss next steps.

And from there, it all goes haywire with the sudden reappearance of the Helmacrons. All together in Cassie’s barn, the tiny Helmacron ship reappears and, predictably, is again after the blue box that Cassie has hidden there. Rachel and Marco both lunge to grab the ship before it can get to the box, and in the process, Marco hits his head and falls to the ground. From there, Tobias gets to witness the truly terrible image of a group of Helmacrons marching straight up Marco’s nose.

Now the team is in a real pickle. The Helmacrons have their tiny lasers on them, and there’s a real concern over the amount of damage they could do to Marco if they should start firing inside of his body. So naturally, the only thing to be done is to go in after them! Jake strictly instructs Marco to lay low and not to morph, not knowing how morphing could affect them while inside Marco’s body. They use the Helmacrons’ ship to shrink themselves down to size, and Marco uses a bit of straw to deposit them in his nose.

Insert lovely scenes about snot and walking through snot and burying oneself in snot to avoid a sneeze. Lovely stuff. They eventually come upon the Helmacrons but quickly notice something is wrong: the Animorphs are much, much smaller than even the Helmacrons. They realize that they had been set up and fallen into the trap. Luckily, the Helmacrons are engaged in a bit of a civil war between the genders and aren’t making too much progress with whatever their plan is either. After a few mishaps, the Animorphs and the Helmacrons all end up falling down Marco’s throat and end up in his stomach.

Meanwhile, Marco is getting bored of waiting. He can’t speak to the team, and for some reason Ax is just not updating him on what’s going on. Restless, he decides to go check out the kid’s apartment and try and get a hold of the camera and film. Breaking in doesn’t go as planned and he ends up being bitten by the kid’s pit bull.

In Marco’s stomach, the team struggles to survive being eaten away by the acid, an all too familiar scenario for poor Rachel and Tobias. Cassie morphs a whale at one point and the team huddles on top of her to try and gather their bearings. From there, they witness several Helmacrons die in the acid themselves, but the others manage to slice a whole in Marco’s stomach and make their way out into his blood stream. The team figures that they must be capable of breathing “under water” and determine that the best way to follow would be in shark morph. They morph sharks and all struggle at first with the madness that their close proximity with blood inspires in the sharks’ minds. They follow the Helmacrons out into the arteries. Along the way, Cassie shares “body facts” about what they’re seeing.

Back in Marco’s perspective, things are not going well. He has begun to feel strange, reckless and anxious. He decides to go back to the kid’s apartment once more and try again to get the camera. Once there, he decides that he needs to morph a cockroach. He proceeds to morph.

Inside Marco, the others realize that Marco is morphing and frantically wonder what is going on that would force him to take such a reckless action. They all manage to survive the morph, and immediately thought speak to Marco asking him why he felt the need to risk their lives morphing. Marco responds in a very petulant manner and Rachel begins to wonder what is going on. She knows that it’s not a great situation for Marco, but that he’s never stupid, and morphing with them in his body was stupid.

They finally catch up with the Helmacrons, but they won’t be reasoned with and start firing their guns. Marco goes still. The others are convinced that he has been killed by the internal damage. They manage to get a hold of the laser guns from the Helmacrons and force them to give in. They cut a hole in cockroach!Marco and make their way out. Outside his body, Cassie begins to theorize that it seems strange that Marco would have died as a cockroach, since they are practically unkillable. The team takes turns trying to wake him up before the two hour deadlines expires. At the last minute, he comes to. He morphs a gull, the team climbs on, still holding the Helmacrons hostage, and Marco grabs the camera in his beak on the way out.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Like the Atlantis book was for Jake, and the first Helmacrons book was for Cassie, these books that veer all the way into crazyland tend to be rather dud-like as far as any real character growth goes. But, on the other hand, the last several Rachel books have been more damaging to her character than anything, so maybe I should count this as a lucky miss that there’s practically nothing worth discussing for her here. Sure, there are a couple of moments where we see her dive head first into the action, but even those instances are pretty restrained and not too notable. Towards the end, there are a couple of moments that reflect the deeper understanding of Marco’s character that she has gained from being an Animorph with him. Before, I imagine, he was just her cousin Jake’s annoying friend. Now, she knows him well enough to notice that his defensive and weirdly aggressive responses to why he morphed when Jake had expressly told him not to were out of character for him. She notes that while he can be annoying, he is anything but stupid, and morphing in this instance was stupid. It not only risked the other Animorphs’ lives, but Marco’s own.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a few comical moments when he tries to mimic the Helmacrons’ grandiose way of speaking in an attempt to convince them to leave Marco and give up their quest for the blue box. He also shows how comfortable he has become giving members of the team orders, noting in the end that he still needs to talk to Marco about why exactly Marco disobeyed a direct order. This is definitely the type of comment that we’d not expect to hear from early-series Jake who was still struggling to accept his role as a leader, especially when it comes to laying down laws on his best friend.

A Hawk’s Life: Not much from Tobias in this book, which is always a bummer on its own, but is worse in Rachel books where we stand a better chance of getting more from him.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie plays the role of “Ms. Frizzle” in this book and is pretty much giving them a tour of Marco’s insides throughout the story. At one point, she is so caught up in this role that she is essentially evaluating the state of Marco’s immune system instead of paying attention to anything else that is going on. It’s pretty bizarre, frankly. But with a book like this, which is essentially setting out to accomplish exactly the same thing that the Magic School Bus episode was, to teach kids about the body’s inner workings, we would need a character like this along the way, and Cassie makes the most sense. She’s also the one to realize that Marco is likely not dead in the end, noting how difficult it is to truly kill a cockroach.

The Comic Relief: This is a strange book in that it’s another one where we get weird insert of POV chapters from another character’s point of view. Rachel is one of my favorite characters and, not only do I think she gets short-changed in a lot of books, other than Jake, she has potentially the most interesting arc throughout the series to follow. So with that in mind, it’s a bit unfortunate to see one of her books divided between her and another character. But, if I was going to have to pick that character, Marco’s always a good choice. Of course, he’s also weirdly written for most of this as he is suffering from rabies-induced mania for much of it. Even without Rachel noting Marco’s strange behavior, fans of the series, especially this late in the game, are sure to raise an eyebrow at much of the out-of-character decision making we see from Marco here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Also not much from Ax. On and off, he serves as a communication point to Marco as one of the few members of group who can use thought-speak. But…yeah, other than that.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Really, most of this book. Unlike the cartoon-y take we get from Magic School Bus, this book tears that cutesy band-aid off right away with overly disgusting descriptions of the Animorphs having to bury themselves in snot to avoid getting sneezed out. It’s pretty disgusting and vaults this book up next to the “Andalite toilet” book as far as catering to middle grade body humor goes. I did not enjoy a return to this level of “entertainment.”

Couples Watch!: Ugh, practically nothing! There was literally one line where Tobias privately thought-spoke to Rachel when they were in Marco’s stomach telling her to morph quickly when she was stuck in the stomach acid. Which can also be attributed to the fact that the two of them already had a close encounter with potentially being digested back in Megamorphs #2. So yeah, as far as romance goes, a pretty big let down here. It’s all the more sad to see knowing how close we are getting to the end.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book! The Animorphs note a few times that they can’t be sure that the Helmacrons aren’t working with the Yeerks, so this is meant to add another level of urgency to their mission, though I’m never quite sure their reasoning makes sense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry at the return of childish body-humor as a form of entertainment. Just…no.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Kind of the whole thing? I don’t understand what the Helmacrons’ endgame was. How was getting the Animorphs to follow them into Marco really going to accomplish anything? I’m not convinced that all of the Animorphs going in after them was wise, rather than just a few of them. And why oh why the group then chooses to keep Marco completely out of the loop the entire time is beyond strange. Ax should have been updating him the entire time and then when they all morph sharks, they definitely should have been letting him know what was going on. You could make the case that Marco wouldn’t have felt compelled to go after the camera in the first place had he been more in the loop with what the others were up to. Beyond that, I’m pretty skeptical of the whole rabies subplot. How exactly did someone’s pet pitbull end up with rabies? It’s pretty rare for that disease to be found in household pets since most are vaccinated and then rarely would come into contact with the wild animals that would need to give it to them in the first place. And there’s no mention of the fact that, hey, some kid and his family are now LIVING WITH A RABID ANIMAL! And Rachel thinks it’s more important to let Marco question his own sanity for another night than, I don’t know, warn this poor family about this life-threatening situation.

Favorite Quote:

TRUTH:

“You know,” Jake said thoughtfully. “I think this is the most disgusting mission we’ve ever done.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change!

Rating: All in all, a pretty “meh” book. It didn’t enrage me, but I also kind of buzzed through it, not caring at all what was going on. I didn’t enjoy the return of body humor and I was sad to see another book where Rachel doesn’t really have much character progression. For all that we hear about her deteriorating mindset from other characters in their books, it’s a real shame that we don’t see more of it from Rachel herself and how she is coping with these changes. The potential here is gold and it’s so, so wasted. Plus, the whole story was stock full of ridiculous scenarios that don’t make much sense. From the very beginning, it’s clear that this is just a “concept” book that derived from a wacky idea. There’s no good reason for the Helmacrons to be back, or for them to take the actions they do, or for them to give up in the end really and agree to leave. If I think about it too much, I could probably get frustrated with the laziness, but as it is, I’m happy enough just letting this one slide back into cool indifference, lost to memory eventually.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Kate’s Review (and Mini Brief History): “Aliens: The Original Comics Series”

33161041Book: “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” by Mark Verdheim, Den Beauvais (Ill.), Sam Kieth (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In 1986, James Cameron’s “Aliens” brought to theaters the horrors of a new kind of war against a terrifying enemy. Long before Alien3 was even a glint in director David Fincher’s eye, Dark Horse Comics was already crafting a terrifying post-Aliens continuity for Ripley, Hicks, and Newt. 

Earth is overrun by xenomorphs with no hope of saving it for humanity. But that doesn’t mean just leaving it to the Aliens. Ripley has a plan to capture, from what they believe is the Alien homeworld, a “Queen Mother”–a super queen that rules multiple nests–and bring it back to Earth. There the Queen Mother will command the xenomorphs to gather where they can all be destroyed by nuclear bombs.

Collects Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #1-#4 and Aliens: Earth War #1-#4. Includes cover art for all issues.

Review: Even though Science Fiction isn’t really my preferred genre, if there is an excellent horror theme to it I’m assuredly going to be game. So it most likely isn’t shocking that I love both the movies “Alien” and “Aliens”. Not only does it have a solidly excellent female protagonist (Ellen Ripley for LIFE!), it also has a very scary adversary in the Xenomorph, a creature that is essentially a giant parasitic space bug that you COULD fight, but you have significantly better odds if you just run away. The first two movies in the “Alien” franchise are awesome, and while I love them both my heart probably belongs to “Aliens” the most. Not only does Ripley get to kick more butt, but she picks up a rag tag group of friends along the way, specifically the Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks, the android Bishop, and the orphan Newt, a girl saved from an overrun colony. “Aliens” ends with the Alien Queen vanquished, and Ripley looking forward to taking her life back with her new found family in the wake of the one she lost while drifting in space post “Alien”.

…. And then “Alien 3” happened, and it completely trashed that perfect ending by crashing the ship, killing off Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, and throwing Ripley into a new clusterfuck of a PRISON COLONY SETTING because apparently she doesn’t get ANY breaks whatsoever.

giphy4
How I feel about the “Alien” franchise post “Aliens”, if I’m being honest. (source)

What does this have to do with “Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War” you may ask? More than you’d think. SO, after “Aliens” came out, Dark Horse created two mini series set within the “Alien” universe, focusing on Hicks, Newt, and Ripley a few years after the action in “Aliens”. But when David Fincher’s dark for the sake of dark “Alien 3” came out, Dark Horse decided that it had to be retconned because HEAVEN FOR FUCKING BID THAT HICKS AND NEWT REMAIN ALIVE IN COMIC FORM. So Dark Horse went back and changed the names of Hicks and Newt to Wilkes and Billie, and they were SOMEHOW not Hicks and Newt in spite of the fact they were CLEARLY Hicks and Newt, and re-released the two series with a brand new ‘now agreeing with film continuity!’ seal of approval. Given how “Alien 3” ended and what happened to Ripley, what with her DYING, I don’t understand why the comics decided to change Hicks and Newt to fit THEIR deaths, but let Ripley come back unaffected. But whatever, what do I know? Happily, in 2017 Dark Horse went back and righted this wrong, and both “Nightmare Asylum” and “Earth War” were re-released in a hard cover collection with Hicks and Newt back in tact. And now that this “Short Brief History” has concluded, let’s get to the review.

I’ll start with “Nightmare Asylum”. Ripley wasn’t seen much in this story, but I was surprisingly okay with this because it gave Hicks and Newt some time to shine. Set a fewish years down the line from “Aliens”, Newt is now a young woman, and has been living as a surrogate daughter/sister/friend to Hicks. They have been floating in space, as Earth has been taken over by the Xenomorphs and they escaped by the skin of their teeth (along with an android named Butler with whom Newt has been in a relationship). But unfortunately they run afoul a crazed General named Spears, who has gone full General Kurtz and thinks that he can make an army of Xenomorphs to fight against the Xenomorphs on Earth, namely by torturing and trying to condition an Alien Queen to make her control her brood lest he destroy her eggs. And while Ripley is nowhere to be seen for the most part, I REALLY enjoyed “Nightmare Asylum”, if only because Hicks and Newt (her in particular) had some fantastic story lines and moments of riveting action. Given that I have ALL the love for both Hicks and Newt, I am a-okay with the focus being on the two of them. For Newt it’s because she has taken on the role of the determined and scrappy Ripley character, and it shows how she has gone from scared orphan girl to be saved to an adult who is out to save the world. For Hicks it’s his continued journey of being a tough and competent soldier who is more than happy to let the tough ladies around him take the reins. He had the utmost respect for Ripley and trusted her, and  he has the same respect for Newt. And also, Hicks was played by Michael Biehn, who was foxy as HELL in the role, so yes, my libido has SOME influence over my affinity.

350f76ae28d780981ca49ee77d09f286
AM I WRONG?! (source)

But I also REALLY liked the main plot with the crazed General trying to use the Xenomorphs to his own ends. Any “Alien” fan worth their salt is going to know that this is a TERRIBLE idea, but it feels original enough that it could totally fit within the hubris that we see so often in this universe. And with new but familiar protagonists coming in to deal with it it doesn’t feel like just another instance of  ‘Ripley is right AGAIN and why doesn’t anyone listen to her?’. Ripley can be right til the cows come home, but admittedly it would get a bit old. And yes, Ripley DOES show up, right at the end, so it doesn’t feel like she’s been forgotten or thrown to the side. One note I do have, though: I didn’t like that there were so many sexualized drawings of Newt. Sure, she’s an adult in this story arc, but was it REALLY necessary to have multiple shots of her in skimpy underwear and spread legs?

“Earth War” was next, and that one brings Ripley more into the fold. As she, Hicks, and Newt (along with other brave fighters) gather together to try and take Earth back, Ripley also has to contend with her leaving Newt and Hicks behind after “Aliens”. I liked the device that was used in this case, as it doesn’t feel too cheap (like “Alien 3” did, and no I will NOT shut up about how much I hate that movie) and also feels wrenching. To Ripley Newt was sort of seen as a stand in for her daughter, who died while Ripley was in hypersleep out in space, and so it was important to give a GOOD explanation as to why Ripley would have disappeared after “Aliens”. “Earth War” absolutely achieves that. But I think that the reason I found it to be the weaker of the two, in SPITE of Ripley’s presence, is that it feels very rushed. While the smaller story of “Nightmare Asylum” works in four issues, trying to cram a reunion for Ripley and her friends, information as to where she was that whole time, AND a battle to take Earth back from the Xenomorphs in the same number feels VERY rushed. Plus, I think that for me there was a HUGE disconnect from the artwork between the two, and I much preferred Den Beauvais:

aliens-nightmare-asylum-int
(source)

Versus that of Sam Kieth:

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(source)

I generally like Kieth (I REALLY like his work on “Sandman”), but I didn’t feel like it fit in as well with the content at hand. Which means I was taken out of it a bit more than I would have liked.

All that said. this collection is FINALLY back the way it is supposed to be, and I am SO happy that I finally got to read it. “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” gives “Alien” fans the stories that we’ve always deserved, and it gives Ripley, Hicks, and Newt a lot to do without getting dour or unnecessarily bleak. I greatly enjoyed this series as a whole.

Rating 9: The “Alien” continuation that we deserve to have, “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” is action packed, powerful, and a shining light on favorite characters from the first two movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: The Original Comics Series” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Supernatural (Not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “The Shadow Cipher”

18806245We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Shadow Cipher” by Laura Ruby

Publishing Info: Walden Pond Press, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobooks from the library!

Genre Mash-up: Science Fiction and Mystery

Book Description: It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

From National Book Award Finalist Laura Ruby comes a visionary epic set in a New York City at once familiar and wholly unexpected.

Serena’s Thoughts

I don’t read much middle grade fiction. Yes, technically the Animorphs started out as a middle grade series, but I’m pretty sure most of us can agree that it pretty quickly veers into YA territory with the gruesome and serious nature of much of it. And there are a few examples of MG fiction (even some recently, like “A Flight of Swans”) that do appeal to me, but by and large, it’s just not my jam. With this in mind, it’s really hard for me to review this book objectively, since much of it simply didn’t connect with me as I’m just not the correct reader for this book. So, with the criticisms to come, keep in mind that this book may still very well appeal to many actual middle grade readers and plenty of adults who like to read this age level of fiction. I can definitely see how it might!

To start with some pros, however, I did like the general concept of the story, how simply adding two brilliant inventors into a time period could effect all of history that follows. It’s an extreme example of the butterfly effect. I was also very much into the opening chapter of the book that was set in the 1800s and seemed to be presenting a sort of “steam punk” like world. This portion of the story also featured adult protagonists, so that also probably had something to do with my preference for it.

I also liked the diversity of the main cast of characters and a look into what life would be like growing up in a huge city such as New York. I grew up in a tiny rural town, so the idea of running around a massive city on my own at age 13 is hard to comprehend.

But, those pros aside, this book just didn’t hit the mark for me. For one thing, I struggled with the mash up of science fiction technologies alongside other elements of the world that were unchanged. There seemed to be a really random assortment of new inventions that would simply pop up here and there. And yet, in other parts of life, that same advancement was no where to be seen. It made it feel less like a naturally developed world, but instead a collection of weird concepts, none connecting to another in any fundamental way.

I also thought the book was incredibly slow and the urgency was lacking. This is a long book for a middle grade title, and much of the middle of it just felt like a slog. Not only did it take a while to even get into solving the mysteries, but once there, the sense of urgency never seemed to connect with the actual situation. I was left feeling kind of cold and uninterested about it all. If you’re going to have a book that revolves around solving mysteries, it really needs to revolve around those things, and this just didn’t feel like that. I also really didn’t like that, going in, I knew the mystery wasn’t going to resolve, as this is the first book in a series. All of the mystery series that I read and enjoy will feature the same cast of characters, but the mysteries themselves are solved in each book, with maybe one or two other through-lines as far as the stories go. I just don’t like books where the mystery itself is left unresolved at the end.

So, yeah. This book wasn’t for me. That said, all of my complaints are very subjective and revolve around my own reading preferences. Nothing in the book is actually truly objectionable. The characters are solid, the world is interesting, and the mysteries are clever. If you like middle grade fiction, this book may very well work for you. But if middle grade books are more hit and miss for you, I would skip this one.

Kate’s Thoughts

I read Laura Ruby’s “Bone Gap” a few years back, and while I understood how people would love it as much as they did, I found it to be ‘pretty okay’ at best. So when “The Shadow Cipher” (not “York”; I’m going to touch on that in a bit) was our book club selection, I was hesitantly optimistic that I’d get another read that was ‘pretty okay’. The problem is, “The Shadow Cipher” had a number of things working against it for me, and because of that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.

But first I want to address the things that I did like, because there were a few stand out aspects: The first is that, like Serena mentioned above, I liked the diversity of and the somewhat unique issues that faced our main characters. One of the biggest threats in this story is that Theo and Tessa Biedermann could lose their home because of a real estate developer’s greed. Gentrification is absolutely a huge problem in large urban cities, especially in our version of New York City, so I appreciated that Ruby brought this issue up within this story, and showed the faces of those who bear the negative brunt of ‘progress’. She addressed it in a way that felt tangible to a middle grade audience, and yet didn’t feel TOO heavy handed or spoon fed to them. What we see are children who are afraid of losing their home, which shows a very human cost to the ever changing landscape of real estate in regards to the less privileged. I also enjoyed the alternate world aspect of this book. I’m a huge sucker for stories that are KIND OF in our world, but wax poetic on how the world could have turned out if one thing had been different. While I’m not totally certain that Ruby completely reconciled the science fiction/steampunk concepts with her world, I liked seeing the effort made.

But, like Serena, I too had a hard time with the pacing and seeming lack of urgency within this story. In other similar tales like “The Westing Game,” the puzzle that the characters are trying to solve is usually at the forefront and very much the driven focus of the novel. When a new piece is solved, it is on to the next. In “The Shadow Cipher,” it felt like it was slowly flitting from place to place. I feel that with their home on the line these kids would be far more rushed (I think about “The Goonies” and how they are so scared about losing their homes that they go on a crazy whirlwind of a treasure hunt that always feels like it’s moving).

My final criticism is probably far more petty and pedantic than it needs to be, and has less to do with the story itself. Look at that cover, folks. If you saw that cover, what would YOU think the title of this book is? The confusing graphic design made me unreasonably annoyed. I know that doesn’t have much to do with the book itself, but it really frustrated me and we had a long discussion about it during book club.

Overall, “The Shadow Cipher” really wasn’t my kind of book, and while I don’t think that it should necessarily turn readers away if they think it sounds like their kind of book, be warned that it may be a long read.

Serena’s Rating 5: Not objectively bad, but definitely not for me. The world-building didn’t come together in the way I would have liked, and the story itself lacked a sense of urgency.

Kate’s Rating 5: Though the characters were fine and I liked the alternate universe angle, “The Shadow Cipher” was too slow for the kind of mystery it was and just didn’t appeal to me.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you find the alternative timeline in this book believable and well conceived?
  2. In this alternate version of our world, there are small changes that are mentioned in the culture of society (such as the superhero movie “Storm 2”). What do you think about these small changes and do you think that Ruby was trying to say something with them?
  3. “The Shadow Cipher” is similar to other books with themes of kids trying to solve a puzzle such as “The Westing Game” and “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” How do you think that it compares to other books in the genre?
  4. This book is generally for older middle grade and YA readers, but it covers fairly topical social justice subjects like social disparity and gentrification. Do you think the target audience will make connections about what Ruby is trying to say?
  5. What did you think of Tess, Theo, and Jaime as our protagonists? Were they believable characters?
  6. This is the first in a series. Do you think you’ll move on to the next book? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Shadow Cipher” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books with Cityscapes”, and “Exploring YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi”.

Find “The Shadow Cipher” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-read #41: “The Familiar”

363352Animorphs #41: “The Familiar”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake wakes up one morning to find he is suddenly twenty-five years old, the Yeerks rule the world, all the other Animorphs are either dead or Yeerk-infested, and he alone is left to fight.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Well…that was…a thing? Another book I had completely blocked from my memory, and another book where I completely understand why. It’s not that I hated the characterization (like a few of the dreaded Rachel books that I had also partially blocked), but, instead…

Similarly to Megamorphs 4, the story opens with a brutal fight scene. In many ways, it’s even worse than the one we saw there. Rachel goes into a beserk rage, not able to recognize her own injuries and the futility of the situation. Marco, trying to help Rachel, tells Jake to leave them behind. Which Jake does. Afterwards, when they make it all out, Cassie has a complete melt-down, questioning why they are even doing what they are doing any more. And, instead of comforting her like he typically would, Jake just walks away.

From there, the book spirals into an unexplained and unexplainable dream sequence/dystopian future/something? For the first time, I honestly don’t know how to sum up what happens because the story literally jumps from one nightmare sequence to another, with Jake often passing out in-between, and almost zero connection between one moment of horror and another. Throughout, implausibilities and inconsistencies are littered, making readers feel like some reveal is coming, and then the story just ends. So, instead of my typical beat-by-beat plot discussion, we’re resorting to bullet points, cuz frankly I don’t know how else to handle this BS.

  • Jake wakes up in a future where the Yeerks have taken over. He’s 25 years old and everyone around him thinks he’s a Controller.
  • On his way to “work,” he escapes to the ground level of New York City which is largely deserted but for roaming, almost-feral Taxxons and a new alien species called the Orffs which operate as police. He finds himself in the sewers and runs into what is essentially a homeless camp of disabled humans, Andalites, Gedds and others.
  • Back on the ground level, a building is blown up and topples. He runs into an adult Cassie who is working with her Yeerk to resist the Yeerk Empire. She claims that Jake betrayed the Animorphs by being careless which lead to them all being Controlled and Rachel dying. She enlists him to spy on a big project the Yeerks are setting in motion to turn the moon into a giant Kandrona ray.
  • At his work, Jake has a flash where everyone around him becomes zombi-fied versions of Controllers he’s killed in battle. Rat!David also shows up, scurrying around.
  • His Controlled!Dad shows up, and Jake morphs tiger. Everyone is shocked that a human can morph. He gets knocked out.
  • He wakes up to be confronted by Controlled!Marco. Cassie said Marco became Visser Two, but in their conversation, Marco says he’s Visser Three and then smiles mysteriously when Jake points out the inconsistency. Marco reveals that he has captured Cassie before he releases Jake, saying they’ll track his movements now that they know he’s connected to the Yeerk Resistance.
  • At the cafeteria (?), Jake runs into a crippled Rachel; she has lost both legs, an arm, an eye, and her vocal chords have been damaged. Jake wonders why Cassie said she was dead.
  • He gets chased by Orffs again and somehow falls through a trapdoor in the street and finds himself in a Resistance shelter where freed humans and Andalites are raising children. They say the floor doesn’t open for just anyone and that Cassie must want him to learn something. He talks to a few of the children, before making his way back to the surface through a tree.
  • On the surface, he runs into an adult Andalite that he at first thinks is Elfangor. He soon discovers it is Tobias in his Ax morph. Jake is confused because before this he had spotted an elderly red-tailed hawk flying in and out of areas and had assumed that was Tobias. They discuss the ethics of war, particularly terrorism’s role in guerrilla warfare. Tobias sends Jake to prevent the moon/Kandrona mission, dismissing Jake’s concerns about rescuing Cassie, saying one life is a sacrifice worth making in the bigger scheme of things.
  • At the Chrysler building, Jake ends up in a situation where he has to choose between saving Cassie or aborting the moon mission. He makes his choice, but we don’t know what it is.
  • He wakes up in his room to a voice, specifically mentioned to NOT be the Ellimist or Crayak, that says that he made an interesting choice and the humans will require more study. Shaken, Jake calls Cassie on the phone and asks if she is alright, saying he should have asked her the night before after the battle.

Our Fearless Leader: The plot is hot garbage, but the writer does stick true to characterization throughout. And in light of past complaints where the opposite has been true, I will give this book the smallest of props for that. Really, a large part of the problem arises with the placement of this story in the series. We had JUST come off a book that opened with a horrific battle, then focused on Jake’s feelings of hopelessness and failure, and then delved into some type of alternate reality that helped keep him on the right course. So, because of that, unfortunately, much of this felt familiar.

It was interesting that much of the internal struggle for Jake here had to do with the changes he saw in Cassie, her hardening towards warfare, and the Yeerk Resistance fighters’ use of terrorism as a combat tactic. The latter, in particular, is the type of topic we’ve perhaps briefly discussed in Cassie books, but it is given new life here what with the actual terrorism tactics being used (blowing up buildings that contain civilians) as opposed to the guerrilla warfare style of the Animorphs. That being said, some of Jake’s outrage is a bit hard to handle since the Animorphs do verge on these tactics themselves. I can think of many incidents, but the elephant/rhino beach invasion on the summit back in the David trilogy would definitely meet the definition of terrorism. However, it’s still interesting watching a character like Jake, rather than Cassie for once, grapple with these things.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Probably the second-most recurring struggle for Jake throughout this book is his growing discomfort with his own use of Rachel. In the opening battle, he chooses to leave her and Marco behind, partly knowing that Rachel will hold Yeerks off in her battle rage. And in the alternate reality, he at first thinks that his own carelessness gets her killed and then sees that he got her maimed. Obviously, much of this is on Rachel’s character itself: she would go down fighting rather than be infested, more so than any of the others. But Jake repeatedly thinks about how he “uses” Rachel and how he has finally/will someday break her by treating her like a weapon and not a person. Dun dun DUNNN.

A Hawk’s Life: So for half the book we think Tobias is some type of spectral, old hawk that flies in and out of scenes. And then we find him as a grown-up version of Ax. Of all of them, this route for Tobias makes the most sense. We’ve seen his leadership capabilities in the past, and his choice to get himself stuck in an Andalite body over his own human one also makes sense. As an Andalite, he has natural weapons and can better participate in the ongoing fight, and we know that this has been a driving force behind his choice to remain as a hawk. He’s also the one to get into the nuts and bolts of the terrorism conversation with Jake, and, again, it is easy to imagine a Tobias who would become hardened to the point that we see here.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has the second-biggest role in this story and the most marked change of them all (can’t really count Marco since we don’t actually get to see real Marco for more than a second). Her hardened attitude seems to scare Jake more than almost anything he’s sees in this version of the future. I have mixed feelings on this. I like how it really solidifies how important Cassie’s pacifism is to Jake’s ability to balance the choices he makes in the real timeline. He depends on her to have this outlook and to pull him back from terrible things. And it’s definitely believable that Cassie would manage to talk her Yeerk around to joining up in the Resistance and establishing a partnership of sorts. So for the first half of the book, I was completely on board. But when we’re introduced to the underground safe haven where the children are being raised…that kind of messes with things. That’s the kind of hopeful, peaceful situation that would both draw Cassie into working there instead of on the streets, but also provides the type of ongoing hope that we know is important to her to keep her general outlook. With its existence, it was harder to believe in this super hardened version of Cassie.

The Comic Relief: Marco is barely in this. We get half a word from the real him about halfway through the book, and that’s about it. His fate is obviously one of the most horrible, as, miraculously, the other Animorphs are all mostly still fighting somehow. We know that the fate of the Controlled being depends on the Yeerk they end up with (as we saw with poor Tobias in the last Megamorphs books), but you also get the sense here that Controlled!Marco has risen so high in the ranks due to it being Marco and him being the smartest of the group. As I said, that doesn’t actually track, but oh well. In any state of being, Marco will be supremely, sometimes horribly, effective. It’s also worth noting that in the opening scene, Marco is the one to both stay behind to try and help Rachel out, but also the one to yell at Jake to leave them. More points to the special relationship between Rachel and Marco (also, practically speaking, his gorilla morph is the only one that can really “help” a grizzly), but also a nice scene highlighting Marco’s “clear, bright line” approach to the war. He sees the same situation that Jake does and he agrees with his unspoken assessment that he and Rachel are best left behind for the good of the group.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Is Ax even in this book? Not only is he the only one we don’t see in the future (according to Cassie he is off in space after helping take down the Andalite home world), but I don’t remember anything special from him in the initial battle either. I’m sure there was some passing references, but obviously nothing memorable.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The zombi-fied remains of Jake’s past kills were pretty bad. It’s one of the annoying, random scenes that just inserts itself into the middle of the story for no reason, but if I try and ignore that (it’s very, VERY hard to ignore all of these random plot scenes and issues), the scene itself is brutal. It’s essentially a personification of all the horror that Jake has dealt out. Not only are there Controllers sporting obvious wounds from a tiger, but rat!David even makes a brief appearance, ready and able to remind Jake that actual killing may not have been the worst thing he’s done so far.

Couples Watch!: Jake’s relationship with Cassie is pretty much the driving force of the last half of the book. He’s obviously horrified by her hardened state and his own supposed role in the entire situation, but things really get started after Cassie gets captured and he has to choose between trying to save her or stopping the moon mission. What makes this harder for him is that everyone he talks to has a clear answer: moon mission first. Tobias, even Cassie herself, all say that one person’s life isn’t worth the results of this mission going forward. We don’t know what Jake chooses at the end, though I think it’s pretty strongly leaning towards him saving Cassie. That would also be the more interesting choice, considering the events of the last book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book. Though I will take this opportunity to rant about one of the many weird inconsistencies in this book: the fact that the Animorphs were all taken as Controllers (or most of them) and yet, other than Marco, they were given to nobody Yeerks and then somehow everyone forgot that they could morph. It’s so bizarre and unlikely that it just pissed me off whenever I was reminded of the fact. And, of course, the set up for the book, revealed at the end, that it’s all some mysterious experiment, gets the author off the hook for having to justify any of this nonsense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Marco is given a brief second of freedom from his Yeerk and is clearly so unused to it that he barely remembers how to talk on his own. Like I said earlier, his and Ax’s fates are by far the worst. We can’t really count Jake in any of this, and the rest all managed to keep fighting in one way or anther. Even Rachel’s horrible disfigurement seems better, and we all know that she’d choose that over being Controlled any day.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I don’t even know, the plan of this entire book and whomever came up with it?

Favorite Quote: For all of its stupidity, when the book actually slows down enough to give Jake real moments to interact with those around him, we got some good stuff, like his conversation with Tobias. And this brief interlude with a kid living in the underground safe haven:

I  wondered  how I  should  answer,  how I  could explain  to  him,  without  destroying  his  spirit.

“War doesn’t  always  let you  save the  people  you know,” I said.  “You might end up being assigned to  a  mission  that  saves  people  far  away  from here.   People  you  don’t   know.   Other  people’s friends.”

He shook his head.”I’ll  save my friends first.  Then  I’ll  save other people’s  friends.”

And then there was this:

I’d  decided a while  back to give  up analyzing what  was  happening  to  me  and  why.  I’d  figured that  sanity  depended  on  accepting  the  reality  I saw,  this  dream  or  nightmare or vision.  But that didn’t mean there weren’t times when all I wanted were answers — definite, concrete answers.

This almost felt like a slap in the face, because not only was Jake forced to have this approach, but it felt like this is where the author was pretty much telling readers to not expect anything else from this entire book. Just take what you have and be happy. We’re not going to explain anything, so give up hope waiting for that and deal with it. I’m sorry, but no. There have been plenty of other nonsense story lines in this series, and I’ve went along with them all because at least there we were given even the smallest tendrils of an explanation. As implausible as those explanations were, at least the author made an effort to rationalize it all and give it meaning. Here, there was none of that. The fact that it wasn’t even the Ellimist or Crayak in the end, but some other cosmic force that is never mentioned again was just insult on top of injury.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

I’m giving a point to the Yeerks again out of anger with this book. And for the fact that during the majority of this book they had, indeed, won.

Rating: Man, I really didn’t like this book. The characters were strong and I did like some of the larger issues they tackled (the fact that this was set in NY city, had a tower come down, discussed terrorism repeatedly, and was published about 6 months before 9/11….yikes). But as I briefly got into in the section above, I can’t forgive the sheer laziness of the story as a whole. There wasn’t even an attempt to explain why or how any of this was happening. Beyond that, we were given small moments, like Marco’s slip-up calling himself Visser Three rather than Two, that IMPLY something bigger is happening that Jake and readers should be figuring out, or at the very least, waiting for the reveal for. But nope! Nothing means anything! And then, the stupid voice at the end. Frankly, I would have been more on board had Jake just woken up and realized the whole thing was a dream. But to add in another all-powerful cosmic entity, and just drop it in like it’s nothing, explain nothing, and have nothing ever come from it again? No. That’s just crapping all over your readership because you wanted to do something wacky and didn’t care enough to come up with a way for it to work.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!